Success in Saturday's Gr.3 NZ Campus of Innovation & Sport Wellington Cup (3200m) at Trentham would be the ultimate payoff for a bit of friendly advice between friends several years ago.
Leading jockey Jason Waddell was keeping himself busy and building fitness for a return to race-riding at the time and was one of the busiest jockeys at the breeze-up session for the 2015 New Zealand Bloodstock Ready To Run Sale of 2yos.
In reviewing the breeze-up footage, Cambridge trainer Shaune Ritchie noticed that Waddell was aboard several of the two-year-olds he liked and decided to approach the jockey and ask his thoughts.
"I asked Jason if there was anything he'd ridden that had given him a particularly good feel and he said this son of Tavistock was the pick of them," Ritchie said.
That horse was Excalibur, knocked down to long-time Ritchie family client and friend Peter Mitchell for $150,000 at Karaka and now an equal $8 favourite for the Wellington Cup.
"I said to Peter 'Jason's probably a better judge than you or I', so we backed his advice and bought the horse. He's not perfect in front - he walks a bit like Charlie Chaplin - but that just put him in our budget.
"At the time I promised Jason he had first refusal to ride the horse but through one thing or another, mainly light weights as he has come through the grades, he hasn't been able to ride him till now. It would be good if he was able to get his reward for good advice in a Wellington Cup."
Waddell, who grew up in Wellington, would dearly love to win a Wellington Cup, especially on a horse he recommended as his choice from the Ready To Run Sale.
"I'm really looking forward to finally riding him on raceday. The wide draw (barrier 17) doesn't really worry me because I was planning to ride him back anyway. On form, he looks a really nice chance," Waddell said.
Ritchie said instructions would have been to ride Excalibur back even if he had drawn well because he'd had a wind operation to help him breathe easier and previous efforts to ride him handy early had failed.
"He's had a few issues along the way but he'll present on Saturday in very good order," Ritchie said.
"We had a foot abscess that forced him to miss the Egmont Cup and that lingered a bit and he was a bit of a sook about it. We had to race him in bar plates in one of his races and that's like a horse running in high heels.
"But he's got better with every run and when you go through the weights, he comes in really well. This is a race right within his range and I'd be disappointed if he underperformed on Saturday. I really don't think that will happen."
Ritchie floated Excalibur to Foxton on Wednesday along with Gr.1 Harcourts Thordon Mile (1600m) contender Sultan Of Swing and Owen Patrick and the trio have enjoyed several strolls along Waitarere Beach in the leadup to Saturday.
"It would be great to win a big race in the Bonecrusher colours that's not Bonecrusher, especially with Peter's passing last year. We won the (New Zealand) St Leger with Daytona Red but this would be a different league altogether."
Ritchie expected a big run from Sultan Of Swing with the benefit of an economical trip behind the speed in the Thorndon Mile, while he rated Owen Patrick a good lightweight chance in the Turkington Forestry Douro Cup (1600m) with the benefit of Wiremu Pinn's 3kg claim.
"If Sultan of Swing can produce a similar run to last start (fast-finishing seventh in the Rich Hill Mile at Ellerslie) but this time from the trail, he's going to be very competitive," Ritchie said.
"With Owen Patrick it's hard to know how much is in the tank with him because he keeps raising the bar.” - NZ Racing Desk