ALWAYS beware a new player on the scene in tough 1600-metre handicaps, such as Saturday's Emirates Stakes at Flemington. Many of the contenders are coming off what could be perceived as grand final runs so there are queries on whether they will line up tomorrow in season-best shape after what has been a long spring for some of them.
That scenario may be a concern for connections of the best-performed horses in the race such as Fat Al, Happy Trails, Solzhenitsyn, Secret Admirer and Streama. Their past performances point to them being the horses to beat here despite the form of the emerging horses, such as Fawkner and Free Wheeling.
But the fresh horse on the scene is the West Australian galloper Playing God (Race 6, No. 3). He comes into this race third-up and rising from 1200 metres to 1600 metres. He has the inside barrier and the tactical speed to take up a prominent position so automatically he creates some appeal.
We've seen quite a bit of Playing God over the past few seasons in Melbourne but do not be too hasty to leave him out of the chances here as he has quite a record at this track and most of that form comes in top class weight-for-age races.
Playing God, a two-time winner of the group 1 Kingston Town Stakes in his home state, has had five runs at Flemington for three placings. On face value, that is not a compelling reason to include him, but look a little further.
As a three-year-old in the autumn of last year, he was the luckless runner in the group 1 Australian Guineas won by filly Shamrocker, who went on to Sydney to win the AJC Derby. Playing God was twice disappointed for a run that day and by the time he got out, the filly had pounced and was home.
He backed up a week later in the group 1 Australian Cup against the older horses and again was checked in running at a vital stage before the home turn. He then was set alight and looked to be in a winning position before being run down late by Shocking and Linton.
Playing God returned to Flemington last spring and finished third in the group 2 Makybe Diva Stakes won by December Draw, who outgunned Glass Harmonium. Fourth that day was Southern Speed, who won the Caulfield Cup at her next start.
After the Makybe Diva, he tackled the group 1 Turnbull Stakes over Flemington's 2000-metre course and finished fourth, beaten three quarters of a length. His only other run at the track came last autumn when he finished a close-up sixth in the group 1 Australian Cup behind the likes of Manighar, Southern Speed and Americain.
Playing God is marked at $41 in most markets but the Emirates is famous for throwing up a long-priced winner due to its position on the final day of the spring carnival so don't be afraid to take up the generous odds.
The compressed nature of the race means those up the top will get their chance. The horse that appeals most is Gai Waterhouse's Fat Al (No. 1). Despite a Melbourne Cup placing with Fiorente, the carnival has been a tough one for Sydney's star trainer but Fat Al might be the horse to finish off proceedings in Melbourne on a high.
It has been five weeks since he led up and won the group 1 Epsom Handicap at Randwick when carrying just 52 kilograms, so he must also contend with a further six kilograms here at his first anticlockwise start.
He was taken away to Cranbourne for a trial on October 23 and he strode home by 4½ lengths. Drawn barrier five, he will take up an early forward position and prove tough to run down.
Plenty has gone right for Lloyd Williams this week with his fourth Melbourne Cup win and the way Fawkner (No. 10) is shaping, his claims must be respected.
Playing God is at massive odds so take him each way and box quinella him with Fat Al and Fawkner.