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Finding the perfect starting point for smart 4yr-olds Lota-muscle and Gil Favour to begin their seasons means trotting master Paul Nairn will make a rare trip from Leeston to Oamaru tomorrow.
Nairn has chosen to step the pair out for the first time since the Harness Jewels in June on the grass track at Oamaru on Waikouaiti Cup day.
Lotamuscle and Gil Favour took contrasting paths to end up in the top bracket of New Zealand’s 3yr-old trotters last season.
Lotamuscle announced his class when winning last year’s Hambletonian Classic.
Gil Favour started his season in more humble circumstances, winning his maiden in his second start at Methven.
The squaregaiter consistently improved last term and went on to notch placings in the Northern Trotting Derby and Harness Jewels.
Lotamuscle’s downward-trending formline, which culminated in a sixth placing at the Harness Jewels, could be partly attributed to the horse battling stomach ulcers.
Nairn hopes those problems are now behind the gelding.
"It is fair to say his form was a little bit mixed in his last half-dozen starts last season," Nairn said.
"We found he had ulcers which are not uncommon in racehorses. [They] were affecting him a bit.
"It is hard to know exactly how they are unless you put a camera down and have a look. But he is in good order and he is quite healthy and well."
Nairn has been pleased with Lotamuscle leading up to his first start as a 4yr-old.
"He is probably a bit on the fat side at the moment.
"His work has been quite good and he seems quite good."
Gil Favour has also pleased Nairn.
The trainer is hopeful the 4yr-old, who he bred and races himself, will continue his upward momentum this term.
"I was pleasantly surprised with how much he stepped up to it last season," Nairn said.
"He has come back well.
"The two of them are ... not great trackworkers at home.
"Gil Favour is possibly working a little bit better than he was last season so I am hopeful he is going to take the next step up."
Gil Favour gets a 10m headstart on his stablemate, who starts from the 10m mark tomorrow.
Nairn favours Gil Favour as a slightly better winning prospect.
"I think if Gil Favour can step away like he can do he will have an advantage over the other horse.
"It is his first stand [start] for a while after having a lot of mobile racing, but if he begins like he has before it will be hard for the other fellow to catch him."
In typical Nairn style, neither Lotamuscle nor Gil Favour has had a trial or workout leading into their resumptions.
That means they give away a race-fitness edge to their main rivals Kiwi Crusher (front), Riteur (10m) and Humble Ladd (10m).
The Waikouaiti Cup features a battle of experience and inexperienced pacers.
Fifty-one-start veteran Queen Bee Bardon will clash in the 3000m feature with Rocknroll Max, who will be having just his seventh start.
Rocknroll Max will get a 20m headstart on the mare when he starts from the front line.