The 2015 Newmarket Handicap first acceptances have been released and only 22 horses remain in contention for the Group 1 event at Flemington on March 14.
The Newmarket Handicap has a capacity field of 24 runners, but that will not be reached this year after the connections of a number of horses opted not to pay the first acceptance fee.
The most notable absentee from the 2015 Newmarket Handicap nominations is Team Hawkes-trained Deep Field, who suffered his first race defeat when he finished third behind Lankan Rupee in the Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning Stakes (1000m) at Flemington on Saturday.
Team Hawkes are yet to reveal where Deep Field will have his next race start, but he is likely to head to Sydney to begin preparations for the Group 1 T.J. Smith Stakes (1200m).
The leading stable also opted against included 2014 Golden Slipper Mossfun in the Newmarket Handicap nominations, while the other notable omission was that of Perth-based sprinter Magnifisio, who will be saved for the 2015 Adelaide Autumn Racing Carnival.
Despite the omissions, the 2015 Newmarket Handicap is still set to be one of the most exciting races of the 2015 Melbourne Festival Of Racing.
Lankan Rupee returned to his best form with a brilliant performance in the Black Caviar Lightning Stakes and he will have the opportunity to become the first horse since Razor Sharp in 1983 to win the Newmarket Handicap in back-to-back years.
The Redoute’s Choice is currently the equal highest rated sprinter in the world and he is set to face the horse that he shares that title with, Terravista, in the Newmarket Handicap.
Terravista recorded his maiden win at Group 1 level when he defeated Lankan Rupee in the Group 1 Darley Classic (1200m) at Flemington on November 8 and he has been set for a first-up tilt at the $1 million event.
Chautauqua finished a close second behind Terravista in the Darley Classic and the Encosta De Lago gelding will have the opportunity to turn-the-tables on his rival in the Newmarket Handicap.
The four-year-old returned to racing with a fast-finishing victory in the Group 2 Rubiton Stakes (1100m) at Caulfield on February 14 and Team Hawkes are hoping that the four-year-old can deliver them their first win in the Newmarket Handicap.
Three-year-olds have historically had a good record in the Newmarket Handicap and Chris Waller-trained Brazen Beau could be the first horse of his generation to win at Group 1 race in open company.
Brazen Beau stamped himself as one of the leading three-year-olds in the country when he took out the Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m) at Flemington on Victoria Derby Day and he was far from disgraced when second behind Lankan Rupee in the Black Caviar Lightning Stakes.
Australian Derby winner Criterion, classy filly Earthquake, tough front-runner Eloping, the undefeated Sistonic, Team Hawkes-trained Nostradamus, speedy sprinter Vain Queen and Western Australian hope Watermans Bay.