Promising four-year-old Almas went from strength to strength during his previous campaign and Lismore trainer Daniel Bowen has long-range The Kosciuszko plans for the sprinter who resumes at Ballina on Thursday.
Winless in his first 10 starts, Almas really turned things around in a major way during his last campaign in 2018, winning five of his six starts between May and September.
Bowen hopes Almas can build on that record in 2019, starting with his first-up assignment in Thursday's Tursa Open Hcp (1005m). The trainer is looking ahead to hopefully getting the sprinter into the world's richest race for country-trained gallopers - the $1.3m The Kosciuszko (1200m) at Randwick in October.
Last year's inaugural running of The Kosciuszko was taken out by Grafton sprinter Belflyer for trainer John Shelton.
Almas tuned up for his return to racing with a comfortable win in a Ballina barrier trial over 1005m on February 18. He was not under any pressure to win his trial in 58.98, running his last 600m in 35.20.
"He's probably at about 85 per cent for his return on Thursday - so there's improvement to come," said Bowen. "And it wouldn't be the end of the world if he couldn't win first-up.
"He really put things together last prep and showed that he's a very promising sprinter and we have a long-term plan to get him into the Kosciuszko.
"It may be a pipe dream, but with a rich race like that for country gallopers you have to aspire to getting a runner in the Kosciuszko. We just have to keep building his profile and showcase his ability."
Almas couldn't have been more impressive during his last campaign, winning five of his last six starts, starting with a Grafton maiden win on May 28 and finishing up before his spell with a victory in the $30,000 Untamed Sprint (1200m) at the Lismore Cup meeting on September 20.
"To do what he did last prep - win his maiden, then step up to a Class 2 and keep progressing to the Untamed Sprint at Lismore - showed that he's a very promising horse," said Bowen. "He's had a good spell and on his barrier trial effort the other day, I know he's come back really well."
Bowen wasn't totally surprised by that run of success by Almas last year: "He always showed ability, but was a bit unlucky during his first prep to run into a couple of very good gallopers," he said.
"He ran second to Whypeeo one day at Ballina (in 2017) and at his next start (at Lismore) finished third to Freddie Fox Trot (with Cabeirian second) who then put together several more wins."
Almas was indeed unlucky to run into Whypeeo in a Ballina Maiden as the Toby Edmonds-trained galloper very quickly showed he was up to Listed and Group level in Brisbane. And the Les Kelly-trained Freddie Fox Trot also has plenty of talent and now boasts a record of six wins from his 10 starts.
Almas has so far proven to be the best performer by the stallion Mulaazem (a half-brother to Sepoy), who won the 2013 Group Two Autumn Stakes for trainer Peter Moody before injury ended his racing career after seven starts.
Ryan Plumb will partner Almas in Thursday's race with the sprinter's regular rider, Matt McGuren, currently suspended.
Bowen also has an important assignment ahead for Queen Of Kingston who will line up alongside Almas in the Thursday's sprint. Winner of five of her 14 starts, Queen Of Kingston is resuming since mid-November when she finished seventh to Femme Fireball in a Doomben Class 6 over 1350m.
She is likely to find the 1005m of Thursday's race too short as Bowen gets her ready for her next assignment - the $150,000 NRRA Country Championships Qualifier (1400m) at Grafton on March 17.
"I've had to give her a bit of a cramped prep leading into the Country Championships Qualifier at Grafton, but she's an athletic mare who should be able handle the step up 1400m second-up," said the trainer.
Bowen will saddle-up several other runners at Thursday's meeting who can acquit themselves well, including Shoryuken, a two-year-old who takes on older horses in the Maiden Hcp (1005m), and Humility in the Benchmark 58 Hcp (1255m).
Race-fit Ballina sprinters Hydrazine and General Nelson could pose the main threats to Almas in the Open Hcp. The Stephen Lee-trained Hydrazine, although better suited at 1200m, has won two of his five starts at Ballina and loves softer ground.
The Steve Phelps-trained General Nelson has found the best form of his career lately. A five-year-old son of Monashee Mountain, General Nelson recorded just two well-spaced wins from his first 18 starts, but has two wins and two placings from his four starts this campaign.
He won second-up at Ballina on December 26, comfortably winning a Class 2 over 1010m, then completed back-to-back wins at that track with a Benchmark 66 win over 1000m on January 18.
General Nelson couldn't quite complete a winning hat-trick at his latest outing at Grafton on February 15, finding the talented Armidale filly Rock The World a bit too good in a 1006m Benchmark 66.