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Tussling with some of the South Island's top pacing talent has defending champion Four Starzzz Shiraz battle-hardened ahead of tonight's first heat of the Forbury Park Claimers' Series.
The Brad Mowbray-trained pacer will attempt to qualify for the same final he romped home to win by almost seven lengths last year, over 1700m in a seven-horse field.
Four Starzzz Shiraz faces a massive drop in class in the event, after running into classy pacers U May Cullect, Change is Good and Vintage Cheddar in his past three starts.
"He got himself up the grades with a win up at Winton a couple of months ago,'' Mowbray said.
"We have just been waiting for the claimers [races] to get off the ground because he is a lot more competitive than he is in his own grade.''
His sound performances since resuming have shown that despite him being a rising 9yr-old, Four Starzzz Shiraz is as spritely as a horse half his age.
Mowbray puts that down to varying the horse's training regime.
"We have varied his workload quite a bit on the way up - we have thrown a few things at him that we normally wouldn't.
"We are even driving him a little bit different - we are driving him really cold.''
His new style of racing means driver Kerryn Tomlinson, who works for Mowbray, may not make full use of Four Starzzz Shiraz's handy barrier 3 draw and work him straight to the lead.
"He is the best horse when he has that one run, now that he has got older,'' Mowbray said.
"It will be Kerryn's decision when the gate leaves.
"But, at worst, he is going to be third on the outer or something like that.''
Mr Handleman looks one of the toughest horses for Four Starzzz Shiraz to beat.
The Nathan Williamson-trained pacer ran the talented Parama to a half-neck when second at Forbury two starts ago.
Mr Handleman had one of his main race rivals, sixth-placed Double Rainbow, well covered in that event.
Mr Handleman then failed in a much stronger race in his subsequent start at Ascot Park, when shuffled back to nearly last before the home turn.
Four Starzz Shiraz is one of four horses the Mowbray stable have racing at the Forbury Park, Addington and Oamaru meetings in the coming days.
Sharnae, who starts in race 8, gives Mowbray a two-pronged attack on the Forbury Park meeting.
The 5yr-old won nicely at the Dunedin track first up, but a mix of bad luck and bad manners have slowed her progress since then.
"She has gone pretty honest races, but for some reason when she draws one or one on the second row [spots] she won't have a bar of it,'' Mowbray said.
"She has gone out to the outside of the second row, so I expect her to behave.''
Mowbray has Sweet Mary in the Uncut Gems event for mares at Addington on Friday night.
Four Starzzz Shiraz and The Maroon Marauder are entered to race at Oamaru on Sunday for his stable.