"I've no intention of letting her get in front of me."
Trainer Brent Mangos' declaration of war on Adore Me leaves no room for doubt as he readies Bettor Cover Lover for tonight's mouth-watering clash in the $100,000 Queen Of Hearts at Alexandra Park.
Adore Me might be harness racing's newest pin-up girl, but she's a new and welcome change of foe for the million-dollar mare as her life returns to normal after a month of battling winged enemies in the form of flies and mosquitoes in Perth.
Betty touched down back in Auckland last Sunday, and was noticeably happier back to her old routine in her home paddock - minus the heat and vermin of West Australia.
"She never felt herself at any part of it," said Mangos of the campaign. "There were a lot of flies and twice she got bitten by mosquitoes and came out in big welts.
"But it was a combination of factors, really. Her work was good but that Gloucester Park track is like concrete and she just didn't feel the same on it.
"She's a big mare who hits the ground hard and she's had problems with her feet off and on for the last couple of years."
But it wasn't just the surface of Perth's main course but the tightness of it that made winning there difficult - in three starts Betty managed only a seventh, a third and a fourth.
"It's only an 800 metre track and if you don't draw well, you're history.
"It's a leader-biased track and they run 12 horses which, in my opinion, is too many for such a small track.
"She handled the bends fine but you can't get round them (the runners) and you're lucky to even make the death."
Mangos said had Betty been racing up to her best she would have finished second in her target race, the $100,000 Mares Classic, but after sitting parked for the last 1200 metres, she only battled into fourth.
"I got out of there [Perth] as quickly as I could after the race and spent a week in Melbourne with Brent Lilley trying to freshen her up.
"I had access to a swimming pool down the road, which she didn't have in Perth."
Betty has made two trips to Karioitahi Beach since her return and Mangos says all indications are that she is picking up well.
"I won't know until race night whether the trip has taken the spark out of her mentally but on her strong work up the beach she seems fine. And I've taken a blood and it's fine.
"I'd be happier if I had another week up my sleeve but I won't be using that as an excuse, we always knew that would be the case."
Mangos says he will be leaving nothing to chance tonight when Betty, drawn the ace, will be shooting for a hat-trick of Queen Of Hearts wins.
With Adore Me outside him in gate three, he says he will be heading straight to the front and holding it.
"If I let Adore Me get in front of me, no one will put any pressure on her and she will walk round and sprint home.
"If there was an upside to the trip it's the fact Betty is very fit and healthy."
Adore Me, while having really only her third start as a four-year-old (she bombed her standing start opener so badly at Ashburton she took virtually no part) is also very fit, says co-trainer Mark Purdon.
"She's trained only quietly this week," said Purdon, who acknowledged her win in the Northern Breeders' Stakes last week was little more than a jog round in 2:44.7.
Purdon said he was sure Adore Me was stronger than last season when she won 11 of her 12 starts, a second in the Great Northern Derby against the boys her only defeat.
"She's racing older and tougher horses this year, so she needs to be tougher but I'm sure she's already taken that step up.
"She's an exciting horse and I believe she will make the step up to open company and be competitive against the boys as well."
Purdon said Adore Me was likely to be tested in open company later in the season, with a race like the Easter Cup at Addington in April very likely to be targeted.
"She's definitely the best three-year-old filly I've had and she's on her way to being the best mare.
"Imagine That was an open-company mare but she let herself down with her standing start manners. Adore Me is more of a complete package."
Purdon said while Adore Me bungled her first standing start, she was in the worst alley - one - got away on the wrong foot, then was distracted by the backmarkers zooming past her.
Purdon is keen to win tonight to secure an invitation to the A$200,000 Ladyship Mile at Menangle on March 2, one of the richest races for mares in Australasia.
Purdon and his partner Natalie Rasmussen have 16 in-form runners tonight but, surprisingly, Purdon tips his maiden Meticulous (race 11) as the best one to follow, despite having a formline of 70P1F and racing out of his grade.
Purdon said Meticulous was being prepared for the $250,000 Sales Series Final on New Year's Eve, which he might find a bit rich, but he would quickly win races in his own class.
- Fairfax Media