NORTH set up a massive early lead before being run down in his heat of last Friday's group 2 Richmond Derby but trainer John Hughes is confident his greyhound will be "a lot stronger'' in this Friday night's final.
"Whenever I have had North close to peak fitness, something has gone amiss with him and I have had to start all over again,'' Hughes said.
"But he is a lot fitter now and I am happy with his box two draw in the final.
"If North begins as fast as he did in his heat he should be the pacemaker and I expect him to get to the line a lot better this week.''
Hughes knows what it is like to taste success in Richmond's biggest race, having taken out the 1995 Derby final with Fabian.
But he was reluctant to compare North with Fabian, commenting: "Fabian was a great dog but unfortunately he used to play up badly in the kennels.
"If he was in a late race he was a spent force by the time he left the kennels but luckily in 1995 the Derby final was race five so Fabian was still okay when he came out for his race.''
In last week's Derby heat North began brilliantly from box seven but after getting away with a huge lead on the back straight, was run down by Victoria's Uno Fabio and beaten just over a length in 30.42sec.
LAGOON Rhett's appearance in the Richmond Derby final continues a successful association between Victorian hobby trainer Terry Reid and Camden owner-breeders Sharron and Ray Webster.
Webster sent Lagoon Rhett (pictured) to Reid recently and the dog returned to NSW with Reid to score an all-the-way win in his Derby heat, jumping in front from an inside draw and defeating Black Forge by just under a length in 30.47sec.
"We sent Lagoon Crockett to Terry Reid in 2012 and he won a heat of the group 1 Sale Cup with him before qualifying for the group 1 Rookie Rebel, at The Meadows, with the dog in early 2013,'' Ray Webster said.
"Terry Reid only has a small kennel but he is a very good hand with a dog.''
Reid's late father Peter trained 800 winners between 1927 and 1984 and landed the quinella in the 1960 group 1 Australian Cup with Meadow Vale and Fair's Orders.
"Lagoon Rhett has box seven in the Derby and while he can handle an outside draw, I think he will need to jump a half-length in front if he is going to be able to win,'' Ray Webster said.
"Black Forge, who he defeated in his heat, has box six and he has plenty of early speed.
"But the dog I believe is the one to beat is the fastest qualifier Rockstar Beav, who is trained by Chris Nutt.
"Rockstar Beav has box eight and he is a very exciting prospect.''
COSMIC Blend, like North in his Derby heat, was run down in her heat of the Ladbrokes Richmond Oaks but box one brings her in with a second-to-none chance in Friday night's final.
Although Cosmic Blend was considered well boxed out wide in her heat, she dwelt at the start and had to use plenty of pace to hit the front at the first turn.
The Mark Wilcox-trained bitch was at the mercy of noted strong finisher Zipping Bailey leaving the back straight but went down by less than a length in 30.54.
Cosmic Blend will be having only her second start over the exacting Richmond 535m trip when she comes out of box one in Friday night's group 2 Oaks final and she has won three of her past four starts when exiting the inside trap.
Her box one wins include a blistering 29.99 effort at WP, a slashing 24.54 at Goulburn and a commendable 30.04 at Nowra.
Trainer Wilcox has always considered Cosmic Blend better suited to two turn tracks like Richmond and WP than one turn courses such as Bulli and Maitland.
From box one she could be first out and first home in the Oaks.