THE $170,000 Albury Gold Cup on Friday is shaping as the first of two showdowns between old sparring partners, Gai Waterhouse and Lee Freedman.
Waterhouse's last start Canberra Cup winner Hippopus and Freedman's up and comer Tom Melbourne will meet for the first time in Albury before a re-match in the Mornington Cup a fortnight later.
Tom Melbourne has been installed an early $2.60 favourite ahead of Hippopus at $3.60 with the David Hayes-Tom Darbernig stable member the other favoured runner at $4.20.
The Peter Moody-trained Radical at $8 is the only other horse in single figure odds.
Waterhouse confirmed plans to head south with Hippopus rather than pinpoint a race during The Championships in her home state.
“I'm using Albury as my stepping stone and very much an important stepping stone as we head down to the Mornington Cup,” she said.
“He is a horse who has raced in Melbourne and been successful.
“Why not go down to Mornington because we might have the same thing happen as the Albury Cup.
“Between the two you are looking at just short of $500,000.
“He is a nice uncomplicated horse and Lee is making the pilgrimage north as I am making it west.
“We will fight the finish out I would imagine.”
Hippopus' Canberra success was the six-year-old's first win since the VRC St Leger at Flemington three years ago.
He set a strong tempo out front in the Canberra Cup and comfortably held his rivals at bay in the final stages in a race which is traditionally an excellent formline for the Gold Cup.
Tom Melbourne will appreciate the speed being on in the 2000m race.
Freedman has already flagged his charge is bound for the listed Mornington Cup where he is hoping to automatically qualify for the Caulfield Cup in the spring.
Tim Clark keeps the ride on Hippopus, who has won more than $440,000 in prizemoney.
“Tim is riding super at present and I think he is the most under-rated jockey in Australia,” Waterhouse said.
"He rides really well and suits my horses right down to the ground."
Waterhouse was surprised the Gold Cup only attracted 10 final acceptances.
"Something is not right at the minute," she said.
"The clubs have to look at things and say how do we get better fields and how do we go about it.
"Local trainers need to be asked also because there should be local horses in the field."