The Queen Elizabeth Stakes, featuring seasoned and up-and-coming top-liners Lost In The Moment, Shahwardi, Puissance De Lune and Dare To Dream, promises to put substance into an otherwise disappointing Flemington carnival.
Saturday's program could be the scene-stealer of the four days.
Greats and rising champions have left their mark on the 2600-metre staying race. More recently Might And Power (1998) scored, following the previous hoofprints of Hyperno (1979, 1980), Gunsynd (1972-73), Rain Lover (1969) and Galilee (1967). Prominent on her upward spiral was Makybe Diva (2002), which won the next three Melbourne Cups.
Some keen judges reckon Shahwardi, had he not missed the cut, would have triumphed in the Big One going on his Herbert Power success, while Lost In The Moment has strong credentials abroad.
However, Puissance De Lune and Dare To Dream are most likely to figure next year as Saturday's first three placegetters qualify for the world's greatest staying race.
Connections felt Dare To Dream would have been prominent in the Melbourne Cup had he beaten Kelinni in the Lexus last Saturday instead of going down by about a half-length because of trouble in the straight. Dare To Dream, it was deduced by the Bart Cummings camp, will be improved by the run.
Still Puissance De Lune, another import and trained by Darren Weir, was slower to find his rhythm in Australia but responsible for an outstanding effort to take the Bendigo Cup (2400 metres) on October 31.
"Puissance De Lune smashed the Bendigo track record, running nine lengths faster than par, which means the eight-length margin was no discredit for those behind him," said form guru Dom Beirne, for Betfair. "As endorsement, [runner-up] Practiced ran a smart third on Tuesday [at Flemington] … "
Beirne is enthusiastic about his prospects on Saturday but "would prefer that he be ridden off the pace and unleashed down the middle".
(Other words of wisdom from him are negatives against topweights in the Emirates and "Silent Achiever is not good value at her current price [$1.75]" in the Matriarch. He figures she is a $2.50 chance.)
The local hope against the invaders is Ironstein, the John Singleton-owned stayer trained by Gerald Ryan. Ironstein won the corresponding race last year.
"He's been in the best form of his career, I reckon,'' Ryan said. ''Without winning, he's carrying more weight than he was carrying last year and he's running in better races and running well.''
Beware of Dare To Dream from the 12 gate because he can be tardy. Cummings has booked Damien Oliver for the difficult task. Ollie shone getting Glass Harmonium, bad in the gates, away smoothly and nearly caused an upset in the Mackinnon last Saturday. Glen Boss, though, on Puissance De Lune (seven) should get a better run.
Verdict: Puissance De Lune ($2.80).
Hallowell Belle, out to redeem Gai Waterhouse's reputation in Melbourne, is a contender in the Patinack Farm Classic. "She didn't have a lot of room in the straight at Moonee Valley in the Manikato," Alan Eskander (Betstar) said on the Racenet poll of leading betting houses. "Her win down the Flemington straight before that was good. This mare never runs a bad race." Certainly Hallowell Belle ($15) will be at longer odds than Sea Siren ($3.80) and Mental, which quinellaed the Manikato. Mental was unlucky, confirmed by the Winning Post comment: "Slow out, seven lengths back at 800m. Touch chequered at the turn, dream run through, ran on strongly to just miss."
Verdict: Mental ($6).
The withdrawal of Streama could mean Fat Al, the Waterhouse-trained Epsom winner, could get an easier lead in the Emirates. Fat Al has gone up sharply in the weights to 58 kilograms for the Randwick win but only concedes 1.5kg to Fawkner, a real Flemington specialist. While Fawkner ran dazzling time to score over the Flemington 1400m, he's equally at home over 1600m. But not everyone likes him. ''Seems poorly treated compared to group 1 winners and may find himself caught up midfield on the fence, which is not the place to be," Shaun Anderson (Sportsbet) said. Also consider Solzhenitsyn and first reserve Free Wheeling, second to Fawkner last Saturday. Free Wheeling took the field up to the tearaways and Fawkner had the last shot.
Verdict: Fawkner ($5.50).
Money horse Tokugawa, with Oliver up, will be the key to the Big6 in the last race. "There's plenty to like about him here and punters agree, backing him confidently from $5 to $3.60," Tom Waterhouse said. "Clearly the best-backed runner on the weekend with us." Tokugawa was fourth in the Crystal Mile at Moonee Valley last start and drops in grade here. Launay has been running well under big weights.
Verdict: Tokugawa ($3.80).