Ballina trainer Andrew Pilling has found the winning key to well-travelled sprinter Dream Habit and hopes the gelding can start the new year in the same fashion he ended 2016 when he lines up at Murwillumbah on Tuesday.
Dream Habit moved around NSW earlier in his career after stints with Sydney trainers Bjorn Baker and Pat Webster, before joining Muswellbrook trainer Gavin Andrews and then moving on to the Inverell stables of Dean Smith. He won one race under Webster's care and another one for Andrews, both wins coming in 2014.
Pilling took over the training of Dream Habit in June and the five-year-old has turned his form around winning five races, including four of his past seven starts.
Dream Habit won at his fifth start for Pilling, taking out a Class 2 Hcp at the Gold Coast on August 6. He has also won at Grafton and won three times at Lismore, including the Rousillon Hcp (1516m) in September and the Christmas Cup (1400m) at his most recent start on December 23.
"He surprised me a bit when he won the Rousillon and he keeps on surprising me," said Pilling. "I can't really put my finger on exactly why he's been racing so well since he's been here with me in Ballina.
"He did have a few issues with his feet. They did tell me he wouldn't handle firm tracks because of his feet, but they are pretty good at the moment and he's been winning on both firm and soft tracks.
"His owner Marcus Smith, who leases the horse, works in Ballina and his previous trainer, Dean Smith (no relation), suggested Marcus send him here for me to train.
"He's gone better than I expected and whatever it is, he seems to love it here because he's a very happy horse at the moment. A horse has got to want to go to the track and race and that's the case with him."
Pilling believes Dream Habit can kick off the new year with another win in Tuesday's Kingscliff Beach Bowls Club New Year Hcp (1530m) where he carries topweight of 58kg.
Pilling is wary, however, that the weather may prove to be the biggest threat to Dream Habit's chances.
"I believe they are expecting a bit of rain before Tuesday," he said. "A soft track wouldn't worry my horse, but it would bring a couple of the others with good wet-track form right into the race."
Leading Northern Rivers rider Matt McGuren, who has partnered Dream Habit at his past three starts, continues the association on Tuesday.
"Matt's a great talent and I'm very happy to have him on board again," said Pilling.
McGuren could be in for a huge day at Murwillumbah. Besides Dream Habit, he will ride six genuine winning chances for leading Murwillumbah trainer Matt Dunn on the remainder of the seven-race meeting.
They team up with first-starter Never So Sirious (race one), Conquering Kate (race three), Say You Love Me (race four), Arrestar (race five), Saxton Rock (race six) and Queen Charlotte in the final event.
The rail for Tuesday's meeting will be in the true position and the track is currently a good 3.