Wanganui trainer Raymond Connors will bid to defend two feature race crowns when he lines up horses at Te Rapa and Awapuni on Saturday.
Connors will seek back-to-back wins in the Signature Homes Waikato Steeplechase (3900m) at Te Rapa with Max, while She's Poppy looks to make it successive wins in the Listed James Bull Rangitikei Gold Cup (1600m) at Awapuni.
Typically reserved in his assessment, Connors simply said he's "hoping for the best".
"Hopefully he can do it again," Connors said of Gallant Guru nine-year-old Max, who produced a proficient jumping display en route to his 2 1/2-length win in last year's Te Rapa feature.
"He's had a bit longer break over summer so hopefully he's fit enough. I think he is. He had his last run in September the previous year but last year he went to the paddock in June so he's had three or four months longer out.
"Whether he might be needing one more run or not, I'm not 100 percent sure, but he didn't go a bad race first-up."
Max resumed with a fourth placing in a restricted open steeplechase at Wanganui earlier this month, beaten less than two lengths.
He is reunited on Saturday with Isaac Lupton, who will chase his third win in the race after Myths And Legends in 2012 and Max last year.
Connors has his sights set on the McGregor Grant Steeplechase (4150m) at Ellerslie on June 3 with Max before formulating a winter plan that could yet include a shot at the Great Northern Steeplechase (6400m) at Ellerslie in September if he shows he might have the stamina.
"We will get through this and the McGregor Grant and then look at our options. Hopefully he can show a bit of form," said Connors, who also saddles maiden hurdler Mesmerize at Te Rapa after an encouraging resuming run for second at Wanganui on May 1.
On Mesmerize, Connors said: "He should pick up a jumping race or two, though he probably should have won by now. He doesn't always finish it off."
Connors was hoping rain this week would bring She's Poppy into contention for the Rangitikei Gold Cup after she was unplaced on dead tracks in the Gr.1 New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders' Stakes (1600m) at Te Aroha and Gr.2 Travis Stakes (2000m) at Te Rapa in her last two starts.
"She needs rain and our concern was that the track might be too good for her again but the rain this week should have helped," Connors said.
The Awapuni track was rated a slow 9 on Thursday and though She's Poppy's best win in the Gr.3 Boehringer Ingelheim 1550 came on a slow 7 track at Awapuni, her best form has been on wetter going.
"I'd like to see her running on well to see if she's back. We were probably dreaming a bit with those first two races and the tracks were too good. But she's working well and we'd like to think she can run an improved race."
Safely through Saturday's race, Connors said She's Poppy would tackle the Listed Ag Challenge Stakes (1590m) at Wanganui on June 1. - NZ Racing Desk