Australia appears to hold a strong hand in early races of the American Ideal Trans Tasman Drivers Challenge at Ascot Park on Sunday, with the South Island well placed for a good finish.
John Caldow has good prospects in the first three heats, Lisa Miles in the first two, while Lance Justice looks likely to make an impression in the second and third. Together with David Murphy, they make up the Australian team. Third of three in all previous runnings of the series, Australia has a real chance this year of turning around those disappointing results.
Clark Barron has been drafted in to the South Island team to replace Dexter Dunn and joins Ricky May, Blair Orange and Nathan Williamson. Orange and Williamson have good drives in heat four while three of them have real chances in the final heat.
Zac and David Butcher, Josh Dickie and Scott Phelan represent the north which has won both previous challenges. The team may not have enough firepower this year for a three-peat although Dickie and Zac Butcher should contribute in the middle stages with Phelan probably striking late.
Points will be awarded on the basis of 10, seven, five, three and one for first to fifth respectively.
Heat One – race two – Southland Bred Highview Tommy Pace
Massive run from Frank The Tank at Addington last time suggests he'll give Lisa Miles the perfect start.
At her best, Bettor Enforce could do it for Joshua Dickie. Off-colour when beaten favourite at Addington last time but satisfactory trial on Wednesday.
Art Exhibit is back with the Lees, having performed well for them last season. She gives Clark Barron a good chance of early points.
A big first-up effort last week from Roxy Dale makes her a chance for John Caldow.
Heat Two – race four – Adore Me in foal to Sweet Lou Pace
From a good draw and with Lance Justice aboard, this should be River Patrol's day.
Canterbury visitor Absolutely Delighted is in good form and ran home well last week. Another good drive for Lisa Miles and a likely Australian one-two.
The well-bred Western Delight hasn't drawn well for John Caldow but based on her Wyndham win is capable of making it an Australian one-two-three.
From a handy draw, Nightmarch would only have to race up to the same level as last week to put Blair Orange on the scoreboard.
Heat Three – race five – Pegasus Spur 'Fresh not Frozen' Trot
Phil Williamson produces more trotting winners in the south than anyone else and the recent results of Astral Ruler make him a top chance for John Caldow.
Sundons Flyer led most of the way in her resuming race last week and will be improved. With Ricky May in the sulky expect another good run.
Jackofdiamonds has been prominent in her recent outings and should ensure Lance Justice makes another contribution to the Australian tally.
Zac Butcher is aboard Spotlight The Valley who is right up to the class of this field and capable of a top four finish.
Heat Four- race seven – Sweet Lou's First Weanling $80k Pace
Three Hundy looked everywhere for a run last week before finding one and just missing. Drawn better this week so gives Nathan Williamson a big chance at maximum points in what is the most even of the five heats.
From the ace and with the help of Blair Orange, Jimmy Nga could continue the impressive start to his career.
Navajo Art beat everyone but Mach's Back when on debut last week. A handy draw and Zac Butcher should see him in the money again.
A Smart Excuse and Joshua Dickie, Cullens Avenue and Lisa Miles, and Trendys Bad Girl with Clark Barron are others to be considered.
Heat Five – race eight – American Ideal Trans Tasman Drivers Pace
Rakarolla only needs to go close to reproducing his Addington performance to give Scott Phelan maximum points here.
McKenzie Mara was slightly disappointing last week but continues to go close and should give Ricky May a decent number of points.
Bonnie Medley impressed at Wyndham, coming home over the top of them to win a mile in 1:55.3. Nathan Williamson will give her every opportunity to repeat.
A high number draw won't assist It Ain't the Money but he's got a good motor and top driver in Blair Orange.
Milehigh Magic didn't everything right when winning from a stand last week. Will find this tougher but gives David Murphy a good chance for points.