Apprentice Ben Thompson has had plenty to do with Airalign and is looking forward to reuniting with the seven-year-old when the gelding faces his biggest test at Flemington.
The Tom Cowan-trained Airalign steps to stakes company for the first time in Saturday's Listed Chester Manifold Stakes (1400m) and is among the early favourites after back-to-back wins in lesser grade this campaign.
Thompson was not aboard Airalign in his wins at Kilmore and Sandown this preparation but is his regular trackwork partner and has ridden the gelding in six of his 20 starts including metropolitan wins at Sandown and Sale last campaign.
"Pretty much this preparation and his winter preparation I've ridden him in all his gallops and Tom Cowan has got the horse going super," Thompson said.
"He's been a real late maturer. He's probably one of the older boys out there but he feels like a two-year-old on the track and he's going super.
"He's very tough. He loves a fight and he deserves a shot at the competition on Saturday."
Thompson missed the winning ride on Airalign at Sandown on December 24 through suspension.
Ben Allen stepped in and Airalign won by 2-1/4 lengths to earn a crack at the Chester Manifold.
"I was set to ride him two weeks before the Sandown race at Flemington and he was unfortunately scratched at the barriers," Thompson said.
"I trialled him in between and he was feeling as well as ever and he went super that day at Sandown.
"He's now a 90-rater and he's won three metropolitan races between this preparation and the last.
"With 54 kilos on Saturday and being a 1400 metre specialist, surely he's in with a bold show."
If Airalign can take the step up and win the Chester Manifold, it would be Thompson's first stakes win in the city arena.
The apprentice won the Listed Sale Cup in country Victoria last year.
"It would be unreal," he said. "I haven't had a black-type winner yet at Flemington. Hopefully Saturday is the day."
The Chester Manifold has attracted a field of 12 with Divine Mr Artie at $4.60 in the TAB's early market ahead of Airalign at $5.
Topweight Kenjorwood, who is also an acceptor for the Magic Millions Cup at the Gold Coast, is at $5.50 while Grande Rosso ($6), Lord Aspen ($6.50), Sold For Song ($7) and Top Me Up ($9) are the others under double figures.
Queensland mare Sold For Song opened at $17 but was quickly turned in.
G1 - The Bet365 Celebration Steeple Chase (class 1)
G3 - The Bet365 Gold Cup Steeple Chase (handicap) (class 1)
G1 - Aes Champion 4yo Hdle
Grade B - Setanta Sport H'cap Hdle
Grade B - Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe H'cap Chase