By Jonny Turner
Late season bids to qualify for the Southland Oaks and Southern Supremacy Stakes have helped set up a blockbuster feature pace at Ascot Park on Thursday.
Canterbury 3yr-olds William Wallace and Lulu Le Mans will have to be on their game to rack up qualifying dollars for the group 2 features when they take on some Southland’s most progressive pacers.
The pair will clash with established 4yr-old Robyns Playboy, the improving Forsure and rising Southern star Love On The Rocks.
The latter has shot towards the top of the Southern Supremacy Stakes leader board when turning heads with three emphatic post lockdown wins.
Trainer-driver Kirstin Barclay is confident Love On The Rocks’ motor will measure up with those of his more experienced rivals when faces his toughest test in race 8.
“This will be tough for him, there are some really nice horses in there.”
“I definitely think ability-wise he can measure up to them, but only a few weeks ago he was a maiden.”
“His lack of experience compared to horses like Robyns Playboy, who has been in that grade for a while, could be the problem.”
Moulding Love On The Rocks from a wayward maiden in to a rising star has seen Barclay patiently handle the 3yr-old early in his races.
That is likely to be the case again on Thursday unless he feels drastically improved behind the gate in what will be his second start off the unruly position.
“If he did things right we might drive him a bit differently, but it just depends on the first 100m.”
Southland Oaks and Southern Supremacy Stakes qualifying – which requires 3yr-olds to have two starts at Southern Harness meetings before the end of the season – has also helped spice up race 9.
In her second qualifying attempt, Mitchell Kerr trained filly A Taste Of Honey will again have to overcome barrier 1 on the second row to win.
The 3yr-old clashes with in-form Southland Oaks contender American Eyretime, fellow Canterbury raider Miss Impression and emphatic recent winner Yankee Party.
Matthew Williamson looks a driver to follow in the remaining races at Ascot Park.
The reinsman pairs with two excellent chances from Graeme Anderson’s stable in Tres Chic (race 3) and American Lightning (race 7).
Tres Chic produced a big debut effort when recovering to run seventh after an early gallop at Ascot Park last weekend.
“Graeme has put on overcheck on her, which should help and if she behaves she should be a pretty good chance.”
“But, I am a bit weary about Tact Fergie, who has been trialling really nice.”
American Lightning looks close to a racetrack certainty after his excellent first up win last weekend.
“He won pretty easy – he only does what he has to – but he did ran a pretty good time.”
“It is a little bit of a step up this week, but he should be pretty hard to beat.”
Williamson also drives Tactical Change for Anderson in race 6.
The reinsman has opted for Funky Monkey (barrier 2) ahead of her stablemate The Artful Dodger (barrier 8) in race 4.
Funky Monkey went a good race behind Top Pocket Chance at Ascot Park last weekend, while The Artful Dodger was solid when working hard and running fifth at Addington behind Wanna Play Me.
“I think with the draws Funky Monkey will be the better chance.”
“The Artful Dodger is still working on his gait and being out wide, it won’t help.”
“The Funky Monkey is not a bad horse and I think she will go on to win a few races.”
Another of the Phil Williamson barn, Horse Of Course, looks the best of Williamson’s remaining chances on Thursday in race 2.
“He has been pretty consistent lately and he should go another good race.”