If high-class mare Fazzle is beaten at Pukekohe tomorrow put it down to a frisky moment in the paddock.
That was all it took to sideline the 6-year-old for six crucial weeks in her build-up to her Auckland Thoroughbred Breeders' Stakes title defence. Just when she was due to crank up the fast work, Fazzle lashed out at a gate, fracturing a splint bone in her off-fore.
"So it was non-weight-bearing but she had to have six weeks doing nothing," said co-trainer Moira Murdoch. "She's fine now - she's very well, as good as I can get her after missing all the work - but you don't know whether you're quite ready."
In a trouble-free prep last season Fazzle won the $100,000 group two feature second up. But she had the added benefit of a trial behind her to trump New Zealand's best 1400m fillies and mares.
Murdoch and training partner Dominic Olson take some encouragement from knowing Fazzle's fresh-up effort at Te Rapa in a listed 1200m on November 10 was much better than the eighth beside her name suggests.
She was slow away for rider Jason Waddell, who is also aboard tomorrow, and was hampered at the 400m when desperate for clear air. "Jason said that if he'd continued his outward movement instead of trying to go for the inside run that he thought was there, then ended not being there, then she definitely would have finished in the first three," said Murdoch.
Wherever they end up at Pukekohe, Murdoch is also encouraged by knowing Fazzle and Waddell will be even tougher to beat in their next assignment, the group one Railway Stakes (1200m) at Ellerslie on January 1. The pair finished fifth in last season's feature after an interrupted run on an unsuitably slow surface.
Fazzle was also reverting back from the 1600m of the Cal Izuzu Stakes at Te Rapa, whereas this year she'll be kept much sharper.
With luck on her side, the Ellerslie course specialist is invariably tough to beat in that state.
Six of her seven wins have been at the track, which include two sub 1:10 1200m victories.
Murdoch is looking forward to the same Ellerslie carnival with comeback stayer Fiorano, her big hope in the $100,000 DHL Counties Cup (2100m).
The light-tried 8-year-old is peaking for the City of Auckland Cup (2400m) but Murdoch still expects a bold effort second up tomorrow.
Fiorano ran a close second to Boundless in the Counties Cup three years ago when trained by Roger James. But after a sixth to the same horse in the Hawke's Bay Cup at the end of that prep, a serious tendon injury threatened to end his promising career before it was just getting started.
He spent more than two years in rehab and owner Peter Doughty tossed up whether to persevere.
However, a switch to Murdoch's beach operation earlier this year has given the big-striding Kaapstad stayer a second shot at staying stardom.
He won at Ruakaka over 2100m in June in a limited comeback campaign and has returned brighter than ever.
Murdoch was thrilled with Fiorano's fresh-up race when a late finishing fourth in the Carbine Club Trophy (1600m) at Ellerslie on November 6.
"He's still on the way up, but I think he'll run a cheeky race in the Counties Cup," said Murdoch.
"He'd been in pre-training for a fair while and ran a boomer fresh up. He's right on target for the City of Auckland at Ellerslie."
Lesser light La Grande Dame rounds out the Murdoch/Olson line-up tomorrow but shouldn't be overlooked in the final event, the R65 1400m.
The perennial bridesmaid was also on a last-ditch prep when she arrived in the stable earlier this year.
But it took just two runs from the beach before Murdoch and Olson struck paydirt with an overdue last-start maiden win at Paeroa.
"She's in foal to Pentire and I think that's been the key to her," said Murdoch.
"She's a lovely mare who's really bloomed since she got in foal."