The Avondale Guineas being retained at Ellerslie has put a smile on trainer Lance O'Sullivan's face, as he and training partner Andrew Scott now have one less thing to try to teach Rocket Spade before the New Zealand Derby in two weeks.
Rocket Spade is a warm favourite for the Guineas, which was under threat of being transferred to a Waikato track had Auckland remained at Covid-19 alert level 3 this weekend.
Rocket Spade would have been favourite regardless of where the race was run but O'Sullivan says Ellerslie is where he and almost every other trainer wants it.
"We are almost all aiming for the same thing [the Derby] and this is the ideal lead-up being right-handed on the Derby track," says O'Sullivan. "I am not saying Derby winners can't come out of the Waikato Guineas but this is the closest thing you can get to a Derby rehearsal."
Rocket Spade is already a big-race Ellerslie winner of the Auckland Guineas but another spin around the sometimes tricky track, potentially under pressure around the home bend, is valuable experience.
But it is particularly pleasing to O'Sullivan and Scott as they are already trying to teach Rocket Spade how to win a Derby.
"The reason we are giving him two runs over ground, this one and the last start at Te Rapa, is to teach him how to race over ground. We want him to learn to settle, to drop the bit and relax and not run his race too early. That is the key to winning the Derby.
"The best way to do that is give him the experience. I am sure he learned from Te Rapa last start and this should bring him on nicely for the Derby."
Rocket Spade was beaten at Te Rapa last start but it was by an older stayer good enough to have finished second in the Dunstan Stayers Final, so he stands out back to the level weights of his own age group with a good barrier.
Milford is an obvious danger, having won the Gingernuts Salver here over 2100m on January 10, although the time was very slow and the form out of that race has yet to impress.
He looks a Derby horse with a Derby trainer and a Derby jockey but having not raced for six weeks Milford could still be on the way up for the classic in a fortnight.
The value in the race should be Lord Ardmore who is bred to stay 2100m and further and was eye-catching late in the Karaka Classic. He has a handy draw and looks the best place bet in the race with upset win hopes.
One other worth keeping an eye on from a Derby and/or Oaks perspective is Il Affaire, who is always running on and was luckless behind Amarelinha at Te Rapa last week, has just 54.5kg and Karaka Million-winning jockey Jonathan Parkes.
Ellerslie Money Makers
Best: Babylon Berlin (R1, No 3): Should lead for fun and drops a long way in grade. Hard to see how they catch her especially with the rail out 8m.
Each way: Packing Rockstar (R6, No 7): Has been largely luckless all summer but with the 2kg claim comes in enormously better off in the weights, getting almost 10kg off the topweight. Should sit just off a good speed and hit the line hard.
Place play: Lord Ardmore (R7, No 4): Has been running on all season and finally gets up to 2100m. By Reliable Man from a mare who won three times past 1900m and could be the Derby market mover after this race as he was solid in the Karaka Classic.