Self Assured could lose more than the Ashburton Flying Stakes tomorrow.
Another defeat will almost certainly cost him New Zealand Cup favouritism and might even cost him valuable respect that could help him win the great race.
The New Zealand Cup, our premier harness race, is still 15 days away but the 2400m standing start Flying Stakes has long been the most important lead-up.
It is even more so tomorrow as it is the first time this season long-time Cup favourite Self Assured and his stablemate Spankem meet the northern stars Copy That and Mach Shard.
About two months ago Self Assured was looking a good thing for the Cup after the Auckland Cup winner put together a string of stunning wins. But since then he has lost two of his three starts, one through poor standing-start manners but another when outpointed by a flying Spankem at Methven. That will have rocked punters' confidence that Self Assured is clearly the most talented pacer in the country and if Spankem, or even Copy That, can step better than him tomorrow and lead then Self Assured is going to need to be very good to beat them.
If he can, then he has New Zealand Cup favouritism wrapped up and it would give trainer Mark Purdon the option of taking him off the unruly so he doesn't have to give away a start in the Cup.
But if Self Assured is slow away Purdon probably loses that option and worse if he is beaten on merits he could lose the respect factor, the sort of respect that can see the elite horses concede the best positions in major races.
So tomorrow has many levels of importance as the Cup trial.
Copy That has been brilliant for most of the northern season although, like Self Assured, hasn't looked quite so imperious the last two starts.
He faces a rare standing start among a fuller front line tomorrow but if he handles that and produces his best he might be able to beat the locals. But it is a huge ask.
The horse who looks best placed tomorrow is Spankem, who won this race last year beating Thefixer and Self Assured.
While he has a reputation as a harness racing tradesman he plies that trade at great speed and the Miracle Mile winner has reminded us with two huge efforts since coming back from a long layoff just how good he is.
If he steps, and his standing start record is 11 starts for five wins and five placings, then he could work to the lead and Ashburton is so fast it is incredibly hard to run down top horses in front there. Should he win he could end the day as the New Zealand Cup favourite.
"I really can't split them, I think it will come down to who gets the run out of my two," says Purdon.
Field position could also prove crucial in tomorrow's Sires' Stakes heat which also brings together the best of north and south in Krug, It's All About Faith and American Dealer.
They have clashed twice in the north this season and Krug looks the best of them but is drawn wide tomorrow while his arch rivals are drawn one and two. With the Sires' Stakes Final two weeks away it wouldn't surprise to see Krug driven conservatively and while he might still win he could be vulnerable.
The Flying Mile for the trotters seems to stack up perfectly for northerner Temporale who has the gate speed to use barrier one so he is clearly the one to beat.