WHEN Ave lines up for the 1,100 metres handicap at Kensington on Friday it will not only mark her first race start in more than a year, but possibly the first strides towards a bigger challenge.
The now six-year-old mare from the stable of Bathurst trainers Don and Andrew Ryan is still eligible for the rich Country Championships series, one which has a $500,000 final.
The regional qualifiers for that are still more than two months away, but Andrew Ryan revealed that is part of the bigger plan. Naturally it depends on how Ave performs before then, beginning with her return race at Kensington.
"She's still eligible for the Country Championships which are in the new year, so we'll just see how she comes back. We'll take it one run at a time, but that's the long term goal if she hits a bit of form," he said.
"She's been good for us and you know, she's still got a bit of racing ahead of her. She's had two trials, one at Bathurst and one at Cowra, so she's done plenty enough to go around in this.
"It's a starting point race, you're always in there to win if you can. Realistically the mare wants 1,400 to a mile, but you can't go straight into those distances, you've got to start small and build your way up."
While Ave has proven herself in quality fields in the past - last year she ran third at Rosehill and second at Randwick in Highway Handicaps - the Roman Emperor x Indirect mare has not raced since then.
Ryan explained the 49-week spell, then a five-week freshen after her first trial, was to help her recover from a suspensory issue. That is also why they have opted for a Kensington comeback.
"She's going good at the moment, we're just making sure we cross all our ts and dot all our is," he said.
"From our point of view, with the dry weather and the tracks the way they are, we are trying to stick with good tracks with the mare because she's had a few problems."
Eleanor Webster-Hawes, who has ridden Ave in each of her 15 starts, has the job again on Friday and the trainers are more than happy to have her in the saddle.
"We just leave it to her really, she probably knows the mare better than anyone really," Ryan said.
"We are very fortunate to have her, not only on race days, but she comes down three days a week. She's got a gift with horses."
Ave's rivals will include another Bathurst runner in the Dean Mirfin trained Worldly Pleasure. She is also resuming from a spell, with her last run being in August.
But with two prior first-up wins and a victory plus three placings from five attempts over the distance, shapes as a threat.
"On her day she'd probably be a bit smart for our mare over 1,100. So she's realistically got a better winning chance that our mare," Ryan said.