After the summer/autumn carnival and two weeks on the road at Mornington and Bendigo the return to Melbourne this week signals, in my view, the start of the road to Winter Finals Day - strap in!
There is plenty on offer across the card but one thing that isn't there, to my eye, is an obvious favourite for the tipsters to rally around. The betting runs deep and every favourite runs with viable alternatives.
That includes the favourite early betting for the first. Maserartie Bay is the current elect but seems easy enough to oppose short of 2/1 with Desert Icon the one we are happy to take against him.
It would be true to say that Desert Icon comes off a bit of a nothing run last time. His form dipped after a couple of good ones and without any obvious excuse at hand but it dipped rather than fell apart and the run was still good enough to stand up among the main chances here.
Now he is tried back out over 2400m for the first time since he was a promising handicapper in the UK. He won over the trip, posting a neat time, at Salisbury and that was good enough to see him start narrow favourite in a deep and valuable handicap at Goodwood's famous festival where he disappointed.
He looks well worth another try at the trip and a field of just six hardly promises to turn this into a stamina-sapping test.
Away from him Steel Prince is feared as much as any. He hasn't threatened in two this time around but in much tougher company and he has done enough to think that a return to form could be around the corner. He hasn't been seen out of stakes company since 2019 when he went on a roll winning seven out of nine.
There are plenty of interesting each-way options through the card. Scissor Step just comes up a point or two short of a price that would see him happily put up here in race six which is surely the race of the day and there are worse 40/1 stabs than Barade in a potentially tricky eighth where the front of the market looks hopeful rather than solid.
The favourite in race seven does look solid, Belle Savoir ran warm late splits resuming at Sandown and seems sure to go well again, but there is a bit going on here and it should prove a good betting race.
Each way prices about Maracana appeal with an unspectacular easy enough to reason away. That was in a fast race against solid older mares where the first three at corner were the first three home and the winner got a hold of them and put up a fast overall time.
Maracana never got a shot in but she was just first up and it may have caught her off guard. She has been given 35 days to get over that and comes back to her age group now with form from the spring that stacks up.
She showed good speed getting home in 34-flat over the trip before going to the Valley and running a place in a race that was weak as a Group Two but strong for this.
THE MELBOURNE MAIL
Bet Of The Day: Race 1 #2 Desert Icon @ $4.00
Each Way Play: Race 7 #2 Maracana @ $11.00