waroaDesert Oak looms as the horse to beat in tomorrow’s Esperance Cup and if successful he will deliver Albany trainer Mark Nelson his second consecutive win in the staying feature.

Nelson enjoyed success last year with Striking Viking, who as the dominant $2.80 favourite, scored comfortably from Put Option with Key Miss in third.

Desert Oak is sure to attract similar support after displaying solid form with three wins and two placings from his six starts this preparation.

It included a tough second to Seth’s Blessed at Ascot a fortnight back when he was stretched out to 2200m for the first time in his 14 start career.

Ridden by Glenn Smith, Desert Oak, carrying top weight of 59kg, settled in third position and did well to box on determinedly after chasing hard behind tearaway leader Naku Penda.

It was the perfect trial ahead of tomorrow’s $30,000 contest and from an ideal gate in barrier five and a drop to 55.kg, the Pearl Of Love gelding could take a power of beating.

“He does appear to be the best performed horse in the race,” Nelson said.

“If he races to his best form he will be hard to beat.”

Hackett’s Heart, fourth in last year’s Esperance Cup, stormed into calculations after finishing strongly from near last to run over the top of Key Miss in a 2200m contest on February 17.

The Helenus six-year-old is proven at the journey and is a major hope if the race is run to suit.

“If it turns into a genuine staying test he is in with strong claims,” Corver said.

“If it becomes a sprint he will struggle as he needs time to wind up with his big run.

“In my mind he is in better shape and form than last year and I’m confident of a forward showing.”

Fiona Scott’s prospects will rest with Time Star, who has yet to run beyond 1600m, and consistent galloper Key Miss.

Key Miss, a Key Business mare, has been placed four times from six starts this campaign, including a last-start second to Hackett’s Heart.

“If she had beaten Hackett’s Heart I would have been confident,” Scott said.

“It wasn’t the run of an Esperance Cup winner.

“But her form is better than last year and I’m hoping to be thereabouts.

“Time Star has to carry weight and has yet to be tested at the distance.”

Megablitz has his hoof on the till and can’t be discounted despite drawing out wide in barrier 15.

Julio Santarelli