Spring specialist Glen Boss has rated Southern Speed in even better form than last year ahead of her Caulfield Cup defence.
Boss consolidated his outstanding book of rides for the carnival after assuming the mount from Craig Williams, who will reunite with last year's Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden.
The three-time Melbourne Cup-winning hoop will ride Southern Speed in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) on Saturday week at Flemington.
Co-trainers Leon Macdonald and Andrew Gluyas have also given Boss the nod to forge ahead on the mare for the Caulfield Cup (2400m) on October 20.
Speaking to the Mercury after announcing he will provide an exclusive weekly analysis of the spring carnival for Betfair, Boss admitted he had long courted the ride on the five-year-old.
"She's a highly talented mare and I think she's got the best form going around her to the Caulfield Cup," Boss enthused. "I basically look at her in that she's a year older from her first win and she's definitely going better than what she was last year.
"The benchmark weight-for-age horse in Australia at the moment is Manighar and there's not much between those two horses.
"I tried to give her a bad mark or knock her in some way and I think as form students or judges you just end up ignoring the obvious. She's an obvious pick."
TAB Sportsbet slashed Southern Speed's quote to win the Caulfield Cup to $16 on the strength of a fast-finishing fourth in the Group 1 Underwood Stakes (1800m) behind the Boss-ridden Ocean Park on Saturday.
Comeback galloper December Draw, third in the Underwood, remains a $13 favourite for the Caulfield Cup in fixed odds betting.
After assuming the ride on Southern Speed, Boss will be a strong player during the carnival with the mount also secured on Thousand Guineas favourite Love For Ransom.
Lightly raced Kiwi Ocean Park is a $6 chance in the Cox Plate behind Pierro ($5).
"I really think he's a superstar in the making," Boss said of Ocean Park. "He's a beautiful colt, he's got a big future with a terrific pedigree and athletic body.
"There's a lot to like about him and he's going to figure very prominently throughout the spring."
Sidelined for last year's carnival after a trackwork fall on the ill-fated Golden Slipper winner Crystal Lily, Boss said his hunger to the return to the top was fuelled by his absence from the saddle.
"The autumn is fine - but the spring is really what we live for - the two to three months of the spring," he said. "Missing last year really hurt me.
"You're probably a bit blase and take it for granted until you're not there. Then you sit on the sidelines and a couple of your horses are winning majors."