Tony Pike thinks he has the best three-year-old in the country in Not An Option. But he also thinks the colt might struggle to win tomorrow's $100,000 Sarten Memorial at Te Rapa, the final major lead-up to next month's 2000 Guineas.
Not An Option's reputation and price tag are well known after he was purchased for huge money as an early juvenile, with his focus shifting to the tough Australian juvenile arena for the second half of the season.
But he reminded New Zealand punters just how good he is with a come-from-last win at Matamata two weeks ago that saw him rocket up the Guineas market.
Trainer Pike is adamant he is on target for the Guineas in two weeks and can win tomorrow but the tempo of the 1400m Group 2 concerns him.
"We have a wide draw and I can see him settling midfield or worse," says Pike, who is one of thoroughbred racing's more astute race readers.
"And I think that will make it really hard because I think Need I Say More might lead and get an easy time. If he does, he could be eight lengths in front of us or something like that starting the final 600m and that would make him hard to beat.
"Sure, I wouldn't be stunned if our horse came storming home and won again because he is that good but I don't think the race shape is going to suit him."
Those same concerns could apply to the surprise favourite for the race, filly Tinker Mcphee, who was a stunning winner at Matamata the same day as Not An Option.
Although it was only a maiden race her sectionals were outstanding. She has X-factor and dazzling leg speed and is destined for the Chris Waller stable in Sydney after the 1000 Guineas but she is also likely to be back while horses like Need I Say More and Rocket Spade (drawn one) are a fair way in front of her.
Although tomorrow is a $100,000 race and early pressure would bring Tinker McPhee and Not An Option into play, punters should be careful praying for that scenario in what is still a lead-up race for many to classic race targets, especially as the rail moves back into the true at Te Rapa.
Tomorrow's other three-year-old feature is the Soliloquy for the fillies as they build towards the 1000 Guineas at Riccarton and it looks an even field packed with class.
The countdown to Cup week in Christchurch continues there with plenty of northerners racing at Riccarton with the best of them probably Unition, who finished third to Not At Option at Matamata and drops a long way in class for the $80,000 War Decree Stakes.
Jockey wins battle
New Zealand jockey Chris Johnson has won his battle to continue riding after an alcohol-related suspension that threatened his charge towards becoming the country's most successful rider.
Johnson has had a suspension of his riding licence lifted by the integrity panel of New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing but with some conditions, including regular raceday testing of his blood alcohol levels.
Johnson sits just eight wins behind David Walsh's 2451 as New Zealand's most successful domestic jockey.
However, the 56-year-old's road to the record was halted when he failed a breathalyser test after riding in the first race at Riccarton on September 12.
He was suspended for a month and fined $1000 for that breach.
But during that suspension he was also notified by NZTR his licence was suspended until he could show he was no longer alcohol-dependent.
Johnson visited a medical specialist in Christchurch this week and the NZTR panel was satisfied with what they were told as he is now free to ride again, with his first day back likely to be Ashburton on Thursday.