The $220,000 Tarzino Trophy isn't the richest race of the weekend for Kiwi trainer Jamie Richards but it might be the most important.
Richards has Probabeel racing for A$1 million in Melbourne, Amarelinha trying to secure an Epsom Handicap berth in Sydney and a host of high-class three-year-olds ready to prove whether they are classic horses or not at Hastings, but the Tarzino may matter most because it could decide the future of Avantage.
The outstanding mare has barely run a poor race in her life but was disappointing when finishing eighth in the Foxbridge Plate last start.
Even great horses, except maybe Winx and Black Caviar, have bad days and if Avantage wins at Hastings tomorrow, or at least finishes top three, she has a season of Group 1 possibilities. But if she gets beaten, or worse beaten easily, Richards and her owners have a problem.
The Matamata trainer realises the second scenario is possible but says the first, the return of a brilliant Avantage in tomorrow's Group 1, is more likely.
"She is working well and looks spot on so I think she will bounce back," he told the Herald.
"We won't know until the race and I don't want it too wet, because while she can handle the wet, it negates her brilliance. But I am expecting a big improvement."
With so much going for her — draw, distance, class — plenty of punters will be willing to forgive Avantage but at $3 she hardly represents great value.
Richards also has Prise De Fer, who looks ideally suited, and comeback stayer Savy Yong Blonk in the Tarzino, with the latter one who could surprise fresh.
The Te Akau machine also take the second steps on the road to the Guineas races at Riccarton with I Wish I Win (race five) and Imperatriz (race seven) at Hastings, with Imperatriz against one of last season's best juvenile fillies in Bonny Lass.
For all the class of their opposition and the beautiful uncertainty of how talented spring three-year-olds are, anything but wins by the Richards-trained favourites will be a disappointment for punters.
"They are both second-up but they are both also very good and ready to go to the next level," he said.
Richards has plenty of classy support players tomorrow, promising types at Taupō today and potentially the hugely talented Brando returning to Te Aroha on Sunday but whether many of those start will depend on how much rain falls across the North Island this weekend.
Rain isn't the worry across the Tasman where Probabeel has plenty in her favour in the Sir Rupert Clarke at Caulfield.
She won a similar race in The Futurity (Group 1, weight-for-age 1400m) in February when also second-up, and she gets barrier two tomorrow, which could see her sit just off leaders and favourites Behemoth and Beau Rossa.
"We couldn't be happier with her and she has progressed since her first-up win, albeit that she will probably improve with this race too," said Richards.
"My biggest worry is that drawn two and with the other two favourites either side of her, if things go perfectly she gets a sit on them, but it only takes one thing to go wrong for her to be a place or two further back.
"So getting out of the gate well and getting that right run will be a big piece of the puzzle for her."
Amarelinha returns in the Group3 Bill Ritchie at Randwick and faces no easy comeback against the likes of brilliant last-start winner Private Eye, Harmony Rose and Aramayo, the latter a last-start second to Zaaki, but Richards expects a bold run.
"I am different from people who think she is real stayer because I see her as a 1600m-2000m horse and I think she might go really well fresh-up," said Richards.
"She is here on trial for the Epsom in two weeks so she will have to go well to show us she deserves to be there," he added.