Ballina trainer Ethan Ensby was rapt to see his well-bred stayer Partnership bounce back to winning form with a strong performance on his home track last Sunday and expects the four-year-old to take plenty of beating again when he steps up in trip at Murwillumbah on Tuesday.
Partnership and possibly stablemate Missile Attack could both line up in Tuesday's Tallai Country Golf Club Benchmark 66 Hcp (2020m).
Missile Attack is also an acceptor in the Tallai Country Golf Club Class 2 Handicap (1530m) where he is the first emergency.
"Both horses are going well and ideally I don't want them to clash in the 2020m race, so Missile Attack will run in the 1530m event if he does gain a start," said Ensby.
Ensby has always thought Partnership, a son of Tavistock from the Zabeel mare Harmony, had some staying potential but was left deflated after the gelding finished unplaced in the Lismore Cup (2100m) on September 19 and again in a Grafton Benchmark 66 Hcp (2235m) on October 1.
But with blinkers applied and ridden more forward at Ballina on October 6, Partnership outstayed his rivals with a two-length win in Class 2 Hcp over 1900m.
Partnership, well backed from $10 into $5.50, was always in a forward position, took the lead at the 400m and was far too strong when challenged late to pull away for a decisive win.
"His first-up run in Brisbane (on September 7) was actually pretty good under the circumstances, but then he disappointed me in the Lismore Cup (September 19) and again at Grafton (October 1), although there was more merit in the Grafton run than I first thought on a track that was a bit shifty.
"After his Grafton run, I thought I'd back him up at Ballina (October 6), put the blinkers on him and told Nori (Masuda) to try and ride him more forward and get him interested in the race, then 'get on his bike' and get him rolling before the turn.
"Bravo Uncle Billy actually headed him but to his (Partnership's) credit he really found something when tackled and drew away for a strong win.
"We'll ride him the same way again at Murwillumbah and he will relish the step up in distance. And with that confidence-boosting win at Ballina I expect him to be very hard to beat again.
"When he's put it all together in each of his three wins he has put them away pretty easily - although he probably hasn't beaten much - and there has been some merit in some of his defeats, although he certainly can put in a shocker now and then."
Ensby thinks Missile Attack can be competitive in either the 2020m or 1530m event on Tuesday.
Missile Attack hasn't run since September 5 when third to Peak Hill and Winkler in the Lismore Cup Prelude (1900m) at Ballina. He had to be scratched from the Lismore Cup on September 19 after suffering a bite.
"He was bitten by something and had a bad reaction to it, so he missed the Lismore Cup and I put him in the paddock for a week," said Ensby.
"He hasn't lost any fitness and with the freshen-up he's had, he can be competitive in the 1530m on Tuesday if he gains a start."
The one thing that could change Ensby's plans is the weather over the weekend with showers forecast on Friday and Saturday.
"Even 20mm or so shouldn't be a problem and should just take the edge off the Murwillumbah track which has been very firm lately. It should be perfect by Tuesday," he said.
"But if the track did happen to be rain-affected and got to a soft6 or worse, Partnership probably wouldn't run and Missile Attack, who handles all surfaces, would probably run in the 2020m race instead."
Ensby is eyeing off a possible Sydney assignment for Missile Attack later this month: "There's a TAB Highway over 1800m in a fortnight (at Randwick on October 26) that hopefully he can get a start in," he said.
Ensby has been having a pretty good run of late, especially with long-priced winners.
He saddled up Shinar, an $81 winner at Ballina on October 6, Torrens, a $41 winner at the Gold Coast on August 31, Fencourt, who scored at $17 at Murwillumbah on August 23 and Fortyshort, who scored at $31 at Grafton on August 19.