A sizzling trackwork gallop has given Timaru trainer Warwick Coles confidence Belardo gelding It's Belsanto can make it three straight wins on his home track on Thursday.
With Coles in the saddle, It's Belsanto was carrying 25kg more than his stakes-winning stablemate Chokito, according to the trainer, but was still able to pull away from his companion in the closing stages of the gallop.
It's a far cry from the horse Coles described as "a joke" after riding him in his first jumpout and having him climb in his action and fail to flatter.
"He's just changed his manner and his attitude. He's improved out of sight," Coles said on the eve of the In Memory Of The Anzac War Horses Handicap (1600m) at Timaru's Phar Lap Raceway.
"He's a half-brother to Natuzzi but I told the owners right away this one was never going to be a sprinter. He's just taken a while to mature.
"I'd been hoping to get to some of those three-year-old races like the Southland Guineas but he just wasn't ready, wasn't maturing quickly enough.
"But he's really come to it now. I said to the owners: 'you just don't know how good this horse could turn out because he's improving all the time'. He was pulling away from Chokito at the end of that gallop and that's what is giving me confidence going back to a mile."
It's Belsanto goes into Thursday's three-year-old set weights and penalties event as a winner of his last two starts over 2200m at Ashburton with the drop to 1600m the main form query.
"We've got a wee question mark over the drop back to a mile but he's come such a long way and he's going well. On his galloping, I don't think the 1600m will worry him," Coles said.
"Just showing that speed with Chokito the other day, he should be OK. It's just his pickup from the starting gates that is his biggest drawback. He can't go from a standing start to top speed very well."
Coles described It's Belsanto as "a bit of a goose in the gates at the start" but said he had improved his manners in that arena too.
"He's just grown up a lot and settled down,” he said. “I've given him longer gallops to help him settle more and he has come good. He drops his head now and carries himself nicely. He was such a big kid to start with but he's developing into a nice horse."
Bred and raced by Natuzzi's breeders Stewart and Sue McGiffert in partnership with South Auckland's Haunui Farm, It's Belsanto could yet develop into a Gr.3 New Zealand Cup (3200m) horse, Coles believes.
"He's going to be a very good stayer. He's going to have to spell after this race and then come back for the New Zealand Cup meeting in the spring," Coles said.
"Whether his target will be the Cup or not, we don't know yet but we have to have an aim like that. It's pretty ambitious but he'd get in with a light weight and he's the type of horse who has shown enough ability to get there.
"He just doesn't stop. You watch him after the line in his races and he just won't pull up."
Coles, who has almost 18 years under his belt as track manager at Phar Lap Raceway, was looking forward to the day's racing on a track rated as a Good 4 on Wednesday.
"We're just not copping the rain like everywhere else is. The tracks are heavy all around us and even my farm, about 20 minutes away, is a bog. It's incredible really."
Meanwhile, Coles said seven-win Chokito was progressing to his satisfaction towards a new preparation.
"She's coming along well,” he said. “I just haven't mapped out a plan for her yet. We've learned that we just can't race her on hard tracks. As soon as she strikes a firm track, she jars up. Her perfect track is about a soft 7."