‘He needs to continue and go in that upward trend. It’s not going to be an easy Cox Plate this year, I think there will be a number of chances, so I expect him to go well though.
“Homesman obviously won the race last year and I look forward to competing against him and getting a bit more of a guide as to where we sit in the grand scheme of things.”
McAuliffe said the son of Hard Spun had improved again following his group 1 mile win, underlining his chances on Sunday.
“He’s a horse that can cop a lot more work than the average so we came into that first run getting off the plane, he trialled on the Monday and we were basically getting him used to the environment,” McAuliffe said.
“We didn’t want to flatten him or overtrain him leading into that first [Melbourne] run and wreck our whole prep so he’s continued on a nice upward trend and I’m very, very happy with how he’s going.
“His work has been excellent and I expect him to run well.”
But McAuliffe said jockey Jamie Kah didn’t necessarily need to lead on Gatting again to win.
“There’s heaps of speed in the race,” he said.
“Caulfield was a little bit leader-bias the other day. I’m going out to Caulfield a little bit later [on Friday] and I’ll walk the track with some of the executives there from Caulfield Racecourse and I’ll have a look at the track and work things out.
“It’ll be a genuine tempo and the way the race is run, with a little bit of leader-bias, will be in trainers’ minds so it maps perfectly for us from barrier seven.”
Homesman, a group 2 winner of the Feehan Stakes at Moonee Valley three weeks ago, is a $2.60 favourite to defend his Underwood title, from Godolphin champion Hartnell at $4.20.
The nine-year-old warhorse finished fourth to Gatting in the Makybe Diva Stakes and trainer James Cummings said he was in peak condition to contest the $750,000 race.
“Three solid runs this preparation suggest there is enough vigour for yet another killer blow from this gladiator,” Cummings said of Hartnell.
“Expect him to look very comfortable back at Caulfield in this high class middle distance event.
“The Underwood this year is looking like a race that will suit him and give him a great chance to add another group 1 to a truly great record.”
Damien Ractliffe is the Chief Racing Reporter for The Age.