COMPARED to his many previous trips to Darwin, Neil Dyer headed north this winter with only a small team of horses.
But for the Kyneton trainer, the endgame remains the same.
On Monday, Dyer will be chasing his fourth Darwin Cup win.
Despite the presence of a highly touted favourite in Living The Dream - the classy winner of last Saturday's $50,000 Metric Mile - Dyer is hopeful he has the horse to deliver his dream.
He will saddle up the seven-year-old Kaonic, who impressed two runs back with his victory in the $50,000 Bridge Toyota Cup (1600m), and will be having his second start in the $200,000 Darwin Cup (2050m).
"He ran fourth in it last year and he is going better this year," Dyer said.
"He's won the Toyota Cup here already and then he ran last Saturday in the Metric Mile."
Dyer has a knack of winning the cup with horses to have previously contested the race.
He won consecutive cups with Hawks Bay in 2011 and 2012, while his third came in 2017 with Royal Request, a seven-year-old having his fourth start in the race.
Dyer has enlisted the services of Bendigo jockey John Keating to ride Kaonic and has every confidence in the 50-year-old being able to give the gelding a charmed run.
"Johnny has ridden winners for us before - plenty of winners," he said.
"We use each other as required and we've had a long association.
"Johnny rode him on Thursday in work and said he felt fantastic, so we've just got to get a bit of luck in running.
"We'll just bide our time and be patient - not necessarily be last in the run - but we won't be using up excess petrol if we don't have to.
"The Perth horse Living The Dream is going to be hard to beat - it won pretty well the other day.
"It goes up to 61.5kg and we drop back to 54.5, but Johnny will probably ride at 55.
"That doesn't bother me. If he's feeling alright, I'd rather have him a little stronger."
Kaonic's Toyota Cup win broke a long drought for the son of Savabeel and Fast Love, who has won seven of 43 starts, with his previous win coming at Eagle Farm in August 2020, while still being trained by Chris Waller.
He was purchased by Dyer in late 2020 with last year's Darwin Cup specifically in mind.
Dyer, who first started taking horses to Darwin in 2008, has enjoyed unbridled success in feature races in the Top End.
This year's Toyota Cup win was his third in that race, following success with Bel Sir in 2014 and Gracious Prospect (2019).
Dyer has largely been absent from Darwin during this year's carnival, entrusting the duties to son James as he continues to concentrate on making improvements to his stable at Kyneton.
"We've been building new facilities at the farm and it's nearly come to fruition," he said.
"I'm looking forward to it - it's where my sights are set now.
"We are nearly there with the stables and the pool and treadmill, which is getting exciting."
Dyer said he was 'pretty happy' with the stable's efforts in Darwin this winter, including a swag of placings, most recently on Wednesday this week with Southern Bolt.
"We left Kyneton with five (horses), but picked up one at Port Augusta - one of Chris Bieg's horses, Leon's Shout," he said.
"It ended up running sixth in the NT Derby and then we got another one while we were up here, one of Gary Lefoe's, Southern Bolt.
"James, who has been looking after the show up here, has ran two seconds with Southern Bolt.
"But he won't come home with us and Chris Bieg's will get dropped back off at Port Augusta.
"We've had a few placings up here and won a good race in the Toyota Cup, so we're pretty happy."
Dyer said his original team of five horses would start their return to Victoria early next week, with a possible stop-off along the way in Alice Springs for next Saturday's meeting.
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