Tutukaka might be dropping back from a Derby trip but there's little doubt that the two-time Australian stakes winner spearheads a three-pronged attack for Cambridge trainer Tony Pike on Saturday's Gr.2 SkyCity Auckland Guineas (1600m) at Ellerslie.
The Tavistock gelding returned to New Zealand last month, just two days after finishing a creditable sixth in the Gr.1 Victoria Derby (2500m) at Flemington.
He had won the Listed Geelong Classic (2000m) at his previous start, having already won at Listed level in Queensland as a late two-year-old in the Tatts Stakes (1830m) at Eagle Farm in June.
"He had a fortnight in the paddock when he came home but he carries a lot of residual fitness and he had a gallop at Ellerslie during the trackwork session last Friday," Pike said.
"Leith (Innes) rode him and he went really well. He's forward for a mile fresh-up and I'm looking forward to seeing him back on a racetrack.
"His programme from here is pretty straightforward. He'll run on Saturday then probably go to the Karaka Million Mile (at Ellerslie on January 22) then on to the Avondale Guineas (2100m at Ellerslie on February 19) and the New Zealand Derby (2400m, at Ellerslie on March 5)."
A winner of two of his eight starts, Tutukaka will be having just his second start in New Zealand on Saturday, having headed straight to Queensland after his debut second placing at Hastings in April.
He established himself among the top band of three-year-old stayers in Victoria over the spring and Pike said the experience had served him well.
"He's done a bit of travelling and racing at a high level and his attitude is a lot more professional now he's had those two trips to Australia," Pike said.
"His coat is better now and he's a more mature horse this time in. Fresh-up at a mile will suit him. He's a clean-winded horse and I'd be surprised if he's not competitive at a mile.
"Barrier nine is a bit of a trappy gate for him but fresh-up we'll ride him a touch quietly. We're really happy with him. He's in for a good preparation."
Pike will also produce talented three-year-olds Field Of Gold and The Landing in the Guineas.
"Field Of Gold just raced a bit dour last Sunday and first time at Ellerslie might just have got lost a bit as well. It was all very dependent how he pulled up whether he ran in this race but he's come through that run in great order,” he said.
"The step up to 1600m is going to really help him. He's drawn to get a nice soft trip and that experience of getting around Ellerslie will help too. We're expecting an improved run on Saturday.
"The Landing just got lost from a wide gate at Pukekohe last time. He struggled around the corner and on the face of it, he was disappointing. But his work on Tuesday was really good so we'll give him his chance and the experience around Ellerslie will help anyway."
Pike has several other runners in feature races, including last-start Pukekohe winner Pacific Dragon in the Gr.2 First Global Logistics Eclipse Stakes (1200m).
"She beat a pretty highly-rated horse of Te Akau's (Time Flies) last time and they put a good space on the rest of them so she's heading the right way," Pike said.
"She's drawn (3) to get a lovely trip again and if she can find a length or two, she's not without her chance. This is probably the strongest two-year-old race we've had this season and it should give us a good line going forward to the Karaka Million."
Second in the Gr.3 J Swap Sprint (1400m) at Te Rapa last start, Providenceprovides tackles the Gr.2 Rich Hill Mile (1600m) from the 52kg minimum.
"Her form has been great,” Pike said. “She's drawn (5) to land right near the speed and with that 52 kilos, she's going to be a nice eachway chance again. This is one of the strongest Rich Hill Miles we've had but she could prove hard to run down."
Pike's other runners at Ellerslie are Precious Colours, River Run, Rapid Falls and Poverty Bay, while the stable will also be represented at Taupo on Thursday and Hastings on Friday.
Heading the Taupo contingent is last year's Gr.1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) winner Sherwood Forest, who tackles the Harcourts Taupo Cup (2000m).
"He'll be competitive,” Pike said. “He was disappointing in Melbourne but I was quite happy with his fresh effort. He seems a lot brighter in himself and his work has been fantastic. He's in well at the weights and you'd expect him to be thereabouts at the finish."