With Tuesday's equine contest almost out of the way, Victorians will soon be focusing on another horse race in which the top-weight is starting a short-priced favourite.
While it does not seem likely, it is not beyond possibility that Premier Daniel Andrews will find the going a bit more challenging than might be anticipated when Victorians go to the polls on November 24.
Form and polls have been on Labor’s side with a bloodied and divided state Liberal Party binding its wounds for the contest, but in politics these days not much can be taken for granted.
Andrews is backed to win with Labor at 1.45 versus the Coalition’s 3.75, according to Sportsbet, but in a two-horse race anything is possible.
An Age-commissioned ReachTel poll taken in the first week of October had Labor ahead of the Coalition 52-48. This is a bit too close for comfort as far as Labor is concerned.
Encouragingly for the Matthew Guy-led opposition, the ReachTel poll had it leading Labor on the law and order issue, and on population pressures.
Labor strategists are sanguine, but nervous.
They fear the latest Newspoll showing a 54-46 margin for the Andrews government - taken after a horror week for the Coalition federally in which it lost the seat of Wentworth - is not an accurate reflection of an electorate’s preferences at state level.
"This is not a lay down misere," a senior Labor figure tells me. "I’ll be keen to see the [latest polls]. If we’re back to 52-48 I’d be worried, and if we were 50, or below, we’d be in trouble."
That’s the point. Sitting on a majority of 46-38 with three Greens and an independent in the 88-member chamber, Andrews does not have a lot of margin for error if he is to avoid a hung parliament, or even a loss.
“They can’t afford another f-up’’, is the judgment of the senior Labor figure.
Since Andrews prevailed over Denis Napthine in the 2014 poll, with Labor winning four seats and a coalition of the Liberals and Nationals yielding 7 to Labor, the Greens and an independent, there have been more than a few "f-ups".
hese include a messy handling of a dispute between the United Firefighters Union and the Country Fire Authority over operational control. It was mishandled by Andrews himself in thrall to the firefighters and may well have cost Labor federally on the eve of the July 2016 national poll.
Labor’s battleground lies in the so-called sandbelt seats stretching towards the Mornington Peninsula along Port Philip Bay, in the inner city where it is under siege from the Greens, and in outer suburban areas where enrolments have skyrocketed due to demographic shifts.
It won government by virtue of picking up the four bayside, or near-bayside, seats of Frankston, Carrum, Bentleigh and Mordialloc. Loss of any of these, held by margins of 2.1 per cent or less, would be a big blow.
Labor can hardly afford to yield any of the above given difficulties it faces wresting opposition marginals, including Ripon on the city’s fringes.
Guy’s Grow Victoria campaign in which $40 million is being provided for a food and fibre exports program to grow international markets is part of the process.
What should be kept in mind is that questions about Victoria in the latest Newspoll coincided with a federal poll that showed a slump in the Morrison government’s fortunes, and those of Prime Minister Scott Morrison himself.
Malcolm Turnbull’s knifing, in which senior Victorian Liberals were prime movers, is not helping the local Coalition cause.
"How anyone could have believed the removal of Malcolm Turnbull would be good for the Liberal Party in Victoria [where Turnbull remains popular] is a mystery to me," one of the Liberal Party’s smarter young federal leaders tells me.
This brings us to the big question of whether Andrews deserves another term or, alternatively, whether his opponent is ready for prime time.
The Premier might be marked down for a bumpy ride in his first term in office. There have been errors of judgment such as a privacy breach – the so-called "document dump" - when the government released 80,000 pages of documents about Guy’s controversial tenure as planning minister in the Baillieu-Napthine governments.
On the other hand, Andrews has presided over a state whose economy leads the country. In July, in its State of the States report, CommSec noted that Victorian growth had edged past NSW in the March quarter due to a robust housing and construction sector.
Population growth at 2.3 per cent annually is the highest in the country, but this is proving both a blessing and a curse. It is driving growth, but road congestion, crowded public transport, and infrastructure bottlenecks are weighing on the government.
Successive governments from Jeff Kennett onwards have been blindsided by Melbourne’s demographic bulge. Labor is fighting to get on top of these challenges. It is probably getting less credit than it deserves for its efforts.
In Guy’s case he is waging an underdog campaign by going negative on the Andrews record on crime and gang violence. Polls indicate the opposition is getting traction on this issue, but it is not clear it will cancel out positives for Labor on the economy, health, and education.
Lurking in the background for Guy himself are two question marks. The first has to do with his time as planning minister when questionable decisions were made that benefited Liberal Party donors. Second, are Victorian voters ready to entrust a youthful Matthew Guy with a grown-up’s errand?
What will be keeping Andrews awake at night is the John Brumby debacle of 2010. A competent treasurer in a popular Steve Bracks government, Brumby as premier managed to lose 13 seats to Ted Baillieu and the Nationals to hand the conservatives a one-seat victory.
Brumby suffered a punishing 5.96 per cent swing against Labor, and this against an opposition under Baillieu that did not appear at the time to offer a compelling alternative. Daniel Andrews is not past the post.