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Lance Noble is sending just one horse down to Wellington this weekend, hoping his rising star Habana can deal to some unfinished business in the race now known as the Gr. 1 TAB Classic (1600m) at Trentham.
Noble saddled Viadana in the 2013 edition of the race, which was then called the Captain Cook Stakes. Badly blocked early in the home straight, Viadana eventually found a way through and surged to the front in the final 100m. However, she was edged out by Shuka in the last few strides and had to settle for second, beaten by a head.
That was Viadana's first start in a Group One weight-for-age race, and she had won twice at that level by the time the season was out – the NRM Sprint (1400m) at Te Rapa and the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders' Stakes (1600m) at Te Aroha.
Now a private trainer for Cambridge Stud owners Brendan and Jo Lindsay, Noble is hoping to see Habana's promising career hit similar heights.
The Zoustar gelding rose through the ranks with four wins from seven starts last season, culminating in a runner-up finish on unsuitable heavy track conditions in the Gr.3 Easter Handicap (1600m) in April.
Habana has continued that upward trajectory this spring, resuming with an eye-catching third in the Gr.3 Sweynesse Stakes (1200m) before collecting his first black-type win with a last-start success in the Listed Fulton Family Stakes (1500m).
"I've been really happy with both of his runs this time in," Noble said. "He seems to have carried on from where he left off with the progress he was making last season.
"He was great in the Sweynesse first-up, then stepped up to the 1500m and won nicely at Counties. The form out of that race seems to be stacking up well too, with the runner-up El Vencedor going on to win easily at Group Three level the other day. So we're pretty happy with how he's tracking.
"He's been working well and seems to be as good as he can possibly be. It's a bit different this time, being weight-for-age, but he had to carry 59kg last start and did it well. We think he'll be okay taking this next step."
Habana will be ridden by Warren Kennedy, whose nine previous rides on the horse have produced five wins and two placings. The TAB rates Habana a $7.50 second favourite behind the market leader Aegon, who is at a quote of $4.80.
Saturday's TAB Classic will be only the second attempt at 1600m for Habana, who made his debut at the distance in the Easter in April.
"His only previous attempt at 1600m was that Easter Handicap placing in wet ground, but I think he'll handle it this weekend," Noble said. "Warren knows the horse so well and seems to time his runs perfectly. The horse has always given us the impression that 1600m will suit him."