Two-time group 1 winner Darryl "Digger" McLellan was more than satisfied just to have another chance riding at country and provincial tracks close to home in Newcastle when he returned to NSW racing last year after a six-year absence.
Now 48 and a grandfather, McLellan thought his days of riding at the elite level were over.
"I thought I was going to be riding in class 1s, not group 1s," McLellan said with a laugh.
On Thursday, McLellan will line up alongside the likes of Damien Oliver, Ryan Moore, James McDonald, Nash Rawiller, Tommy Berry and Michelle Payne in the group 1 VRC Oaks (2500 metres) at Flemington aboard Never Listen for Scone trainer John Ramsey.
McLellan won his most recent group 1 in 2002 with Henderson Bay in the Sydney Cup and he said it had probably been at least 10 years since his last chance in a top-level race.
Despite the long time away, McLellan was taking the return in his stride.
"It's all good," he said.
"I'm a bit stressed getting packed and trying to get all my gear and race gear in the one bag, but once I get down there I'll be right.
"I've ridden in group 1 races that many times it's not funny, so riding in a big race is not worrying me one bit."
McLellan has ridden the highs and lows of racing since becoming Sydney's leading apprentice in 1992-93. He had more than 1000 winners but struggled with injuries before a fall at Newcastle on Boxing Day 2011 led to an almost six-year break from the sport.
He returned to racing in Queensland in late 2017 before winning a battle to regain his NSW licence midway through last year. Close to family and friends again in Newcastle, McLellan has rebuilt his career.
A return to major races, however, was not on the cards until Never Listen scored an eight-length win at Scone over 2200m on October 25 to confirm Ramsey's belief that she was worth a shot at the $1 million Oaks.
Ramsey has stayed loyal with McLellan, who returned just over two months ago from a broken ankle to ride Never Listen in her past four starts.
The Trusting filly was a $41 shot for the Oaks with TAB Fixed Odds on Wednesday but McLellan believed she was a chance and declared: "I'll beat more home than what beat me home".
"We've only won at Scone, and I know that, but if a horse can run the trip, it's a bonus, and I definitely think she will," he said.
"She broke 12 seconds the last furlong at Scone, so that's pretty good.
"And maidens have won that Oaks before, so you never know."
Regardless of the result, McLellan was grateful for the opportunity and said "I'll be trying my guts out".
"It's amazing because I didn't think I'd be riding in a group 1 again, so just to be doing that is great, and you never know what can happen," he said.
"It's a funny game racing. One door closes and another one opens, and anything is possible. That's the great thing about our industry."
He said how Never Listen would handle the likely wet track and the Melbourne way of going were unknowns but he was confident of putting her in the mix from gate five.
"I couldn't be happier with the draw and I've been talking to John," he said.
"He's really happy with her and he rides her, which is a bonus. He can feel any changes in them, so everything is good.
"I want to be in the first half a dozen," he said of the race.
"There's 15 runners so I don't think they will walk. Hopefully they run a genuine tempo.
"Hopefully I'll have her in the first half a dozen and give her every chance, and see what happens."