The battle for supremacy between champion Damien Oliver and the New Zealand whizz-kid James McDonald will be a feature of Saturday's Canterbury card.
Oliver, the Melbourne-based West Australian, is making a rare appearance at what is regarded as a midweek and night-racing venue, despite being regarded as Sydney's best racing surface.
Obviously a battle of tactics is anticipated between the pair in the December Handicap, the last and most attractive race on the day.
McDonald handles the hot favourite Messene which launches from the extreme outside, 12, while Oliver is inside him on Said Com (nine).
The rail is the normal position and the ground is rated slow, which could lead to better conditions off the rail, but being so wide McDonald will have to make battlefield decisions on Messene, which is untested on going worse than dead.
Oliver has earned the title ''champion'', not only for one performance such as on Fiorente in the Melbourne Cup in November, but excellence during the past 20 years.
McDonald was freshly out of the cradle when Oliver made another Kiwi hot-shot, Shane Dye, look common on Veandercross in the 1992 Caulfield Cup. Oliver cut the corner to score on Mannerism.
However, the New Zealander is an awesome talent and Messene is a gifted five-year-old with a six out of nine winning strike rate.
Messene notched a benchmark 95 on the Kensington circuit on December 7 like a good 'un while Said Com was a solid fifth in the much tougher group2 Villiers, 1550 metres, also on the Kensington last start.
Said Com was beaten 2½ lengths by Ninth Legion, a stablemate of Messene, trained by the Hawkes team, in the Villiers after a bumpy passage.
With considerable speed inside Messene, which usually goes forward, the navigation to the first turn could prove vital.
Messene and Said Com, one of leading trainer Chris Waller's four acceptors in the event, have shown a liking for Canterbury and so, too, outsider Honourable Aussie, capable of sharp improvement.
Verdict: Said Com ($6).
Race form v potential
Oliver (Nordic Empire) and McDonald (Invisible) will open the innings in the TAB Plate, an intriguing sprint for two-year-olds because of race and Melbourne form being up against barrier-trial potential.
Nordic Empire, successful over the Caulfield 1000m on November 30, has drawn perfectly in three, while Invisible launches from eight.
Certainly the 1200m journey will test fitness and experience, and Invisible was given a strong hit-out winning a 900m Rosehill barrier trial on Tuesday.
The Midweeker, a specialist barrier-trial publication, reported Invisible ''jumped in front, steadied and was ridden to finish best''.
Invisible recorded o.5 seconds faster than the norm for the distance, but Jetwings, another making his debut, showed speed in a Rosehill heat on December 10.
In fact, he downed Kumaon, a subsequent winner, by five lengths. But that's a barrier trial. Does it measure up to races?
Verdict: Nordic Empire ($3.50).
Oliver, on Kristy Lee, has a McDonald-free event in the fourth race. Prepared by Waller, Kristy Lee can be difficult as she has a tendency to hang in, again evident when she was a two-length seventh to Holy Delusions over the Kensington 1150m on December 14. However, Kristy Lee does like Canterbury (five starts for a win and three placings) and the anticipated strong tempo should suit.
Red Dynamite has been tuned for a first-up kill and Shiraz, part-owned by the former leviathan western districts bookmaker Peter Whealy, earned rave reviews in Dubbo for his last-start triumph.
Verdict: Kristy Lee ($5).
Change of luck is due
Outsider Fort Sumter will have the services of Oliver in the fifth, while McDonald will be on Monbazillac, which is near a win going on his strong finish behind Emblems at the Kensington on December 7.
Still, they are opposed to Knoydart, from the Peter Snowden stable, and Field Marshall, which is crying out for luck in running.
Knoydart could well live up to his early potential after a gelding operation and Snowden has given him a two barrier-trial foundation.
Alas, Knoydart drew nine and from six Field Marshall promises to get some cover, which could be vital.
Verdict: Field Marshall ($4).
Rastro, with McDonald up, will have the benefit of a seven-day back-up in the seventh race, a situation that has suited him in the past. Because of Rastro's tactical speed, McDonald promises to cross from the 10 gate. Rastro was fifth to Rolston over the Rosehill 1350m last Saturday, while Sir Berus, a rival, was eighth, about a length away. Sir Berus, though, copped plenty of interference.
Verdict: Sir Berus ($4).