Trent Busuttin believes that in Persian Empire, he has a better Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m) contender than last year's runner-up Rising Red.
The Cranbourne-based Kiwi trainer made a hit-and-run raid with Rising Red in last year's classic at Ellerslie and beat all but Gingernuts in the three-year-old Classic.
"They are very similar but if anything, I think a bit more of this horse, though Rising Red really ran out of his skin in the Derby," Busuttin said.
"We were there last year more hopeful than confident, whereas with this horse, I've got a bit more confidence about him."
Bred by Don and Rochelle McLaren, Savabeel colt Persian Empire is the first foal of unraced O'Reilly mare Persian Dynasty, a half-sister to Gr.1 Rosehill Guineas winner Zabrasive, and cost Busuttin $280,000 at the 2016 Karaka yearling sales.
"He's a nice horse and he fits the Derby criteria," Busuttin said.
"He came up a bit late for the spring in Victoria, but he won his maiden nicely and was always going to get up over a trip.
"He raced against the older horses over 2000m at Moonee Valley and was very strong, only just going down on the line and that's when we earmarked the Derby in New Zealand for him.
"There are not many opportunities to race for $1 million and in their age group, we thought it's the time to do it."
A winner of one of his seven starts, Persian Empire blotted his copybook with an unplaced run at Moonee Valley last start, hardly an ideal lead-up to Saturday's Gr.2 Electrolux Avondale Guineas (2100m) at Ellerslie, but Busuttin and his partner Natalie Young have put their faith in their horse.
"He raced below par last start but everything went wrong for him. He was taken on and attacked the entire race," Busuttin said.
"He ran sectionals early and mid-race that he just couldn't sustain so we'll forgive him that run and see how he squares up on Saturday."
Persian Empire is likely to confront a heavy Ellerslie track on Saturday but Busuttin believes he will cope with conditions.
"You never know but most of the Savabeel horses I've had, they get through wet tracks. Savabeels, they are strong, tough horses and more-often-than-not they handle wet conditions," he said.
"I go into the race fairly confident he'll handle it. He's fit and he's had three hard runs so it shouldn't concern him too much.
"He's drawn 12 and he'll put himself up on the speed and no doubt they will be getting wide by then.
"We've got a good jockey in Leith Innes and he'll do the job. He went and galloped the horse on Tuesday morning at the McKee set-up and was impressed with what he felt so fingers crossed for Saturday."
TAB bookmakers don't share Busuttin's confidence and have Persian Empire on offer as a $31 outsider in a market headed by last-start Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) winner Scott Base at $3.40, last week's Gr.2 Waikato Guineas (2000m) runner-up Mongolianconqueror at $5 and last-start Te Rapa winner Mission Hill at $5.
Busuttin was delighted how well Persian Empire had travelled to New Zealand and settled in and was optimistic his horse could figure in both his upcoming assignments.
"The Avondale Guineas paints a picture for the Derby. Last year Gingernuts wasn't even in the Derby picture before he came out and did what he did. We're just hoping he runs well." – NZ Racing Desk.