Coffs Harbour trainer Brett Dodson expects his in-form mare In A Step to give plenty of cheek from her inside alley when she steps up in grade at Ballina on Thursday.
The four-year-old Sidestep mare has won two of her past three starts, winning Benchmark 58 Handicaps over 1000m at Taree on June 29 and August 21, and steps up to Thursday's Benchmark 74 Untamed Sprint Prelude (1000m).
The winners of Thursday's Lismore Cup Prelude (1900m) and Untamed Sprint Prelude will be exempt from the ballot for the two Lismore Turf Club features coming up later this month.
The $75,000 Lismore Cup (2100m) and the $50,000 Untamed Showcase Sprint (1200m) will be run on September 24. The Lismore Cup meeting, which also features the $50,000 Rousillon Hcp (1516m), carries total prizemoney of $345,000.
While In A Step is unlikely to extend to the 1200m of the Lismore sprint in a fortnight, Dodson does think she can improve on her handy record of four wins and four placings from her 13 starts when she heads to Ballina.
"She's been racing really well through the winter and although she's facing a tougher task on Thursday, the key to her chances is she is dropping down in the weights and has drawn the inside gate," said the trainer.
"She's got plenty of speed and around the tighter Ballina track she should be in the race for a long way."
In A Step carried 58kg after apprentice claims at her recent Taree wins and drops to 56kg on Thursday where senior rider Jon Grisedale will take the ride.
Dodson's apprentice Kyle Wilson-Taylor has picked up the ride on the Stephen Lee-trained See It Thru, last start winner of the Murwillumbah Newmarket (1200m) on August 28.
"Jon rides her in her work and whenever she gets 58kg or less I stick with him," said Dodson. "But Kyle might end up knocking us off on one from another stable - he's done it before."
Dodson is unlikely to send the mare around in the Untamed Sprint during the Lismore Cup carnival even if she wins on Thursday to earn an automatic berth.
"I think next preparation when she matures a bit more we may try her over 1200m, but for now we're happy to keep her at 1000m," he said.
See It Thru and John Shelton's Jule's Spirit loom as the biggest threats in Thursday's race.
Dodson's one other runner at Thursday's meeting is Sawtell, who tackles the Lismore Cup Prelude over 1900m. Sawtell doesn't often win, but Dodson thinks he is in a race that suits him perfectly on Thursday.
Sawtell has won four races from his 33 starts, and three of those wins came within his first seven starts back in the 2017/18 season. He ended a long winning drought four starts back when he won a Benchmark 66 over 1900m at Kempsey on May 2.
"Luke Rolls rode him in that Kempsey win and said the 1900m was probably as far as he wants," said Dodson.
"As he's matured he's relaxing better in his races now and is really finding the line. He tackles Thursday's race at his fourth run back, we've tinkered with his gear a bit (blinkers off, visors on) and his work the other day was fantastic.
"He's a horse that just doesn't carry weight, so he will really appreciate getting down to the 54.5kg after Kyle's claim. I think this looks a perfect race for him."