Catch up on the week’s harness racing action in our weekly review, thanks to Darren Clayton.
Ricky Thurlow started season 2021 with a bang and was leading the State Drivers Premiership early in the year - albeit after a couple of race meetings.
Never driving regularly enough to be a serious contender in that title, Thurlow has been able to achieve a strong strike rate with his limited drives three months into the current season.
Proving that he still possesses a deft touch with the reins in hand, Thurlow took driving honours at Albion Park on Saturday night when steering home a trio of winners.
The treble took his tally to seven metropolitan wins for the season and 16 in total, with the metropolitan victories sitting alongside 13 placings from just 39 appearances.
The first of the treble came aboard the Belinda McCarthy-trained Wrangler, with the seven-year-old facing the starter for the first time at The Creek.
A multiple winner for owner Ian Dobson - the former owner of Courage Under Fire - Wrangler boasts a 1.48.8 personal best when scorching the Menangle mile.
Sent forward by Thurlow, Wrangler took control in the early stages and once in front never looked in danger, putting his rivals away with a sub-55 second closing 800-metre split.
The middle leg of the three winners came aboard the consistent Shortys Mate, who was able to score a close-out win in a blanket finish where all seven runners were within five metres at the finish.
Taken back early from a wide gate, Thurlow was able to produce some magic to weave a passage between runners to land the victory.
In 10 starts since taking over the training of Shortys Mate, Thurlow has produced the eight-year-old to record three victories and six minor placings, the only miss being a fourth to Leos Best.
The treble was completed when again partnering with Belinda McCarthy, this time to claim a mares qualifier with Bettor Robyn.
Stepping out in Queensland for the first time, Bettor Robyn was sent forward from a second-line gate to face the breeze outside the leader, True Stepper.
In a strong first-over victory, Bettor Robyn made it successive wins since resuming from a spell.
Forcing his way into the metropolitan drivers top-ten with the treble, with the quality of horse that Thurlow is having the opportunity to partner, and his ongoing association with Belinda and Luke McCarthy, the winners can continue to flow.
Trainer Shawn Grimsey always has a handy horse in his barn, and arguably the best of the current team - Rubies For Tash - departed his stable following her last start victory on April 3.
Grimsey was sent the mare by respected New South Wales trainer and driver Bruce Harpley back in June 2020, arriving with a handy record that had included 17 victories.
With a scintillating closing sprint when saved for a closing crack at her rivals, Rubies For Tash raced through her Brisbane grades for Grimsey.
Upon her departure from his stable, the mare had started on 23 occasions, winning five of those and placing a further nine times - with seven of those placings finishing second.
Racing every month in Queensland during her stint, Rubies For Tash departed with a new career PB of 1.52.8 and added over $60,000 in stakes during her time in the Sunshine State.
That PB however was lowered again on Saturday night at Menangle.
Stepping out for new trainer Jason Grimson in her first start back in New South Wales, Rubies For Tash paced a 1.51.8 mile at Menangle.
However as one door closes, another door opens, and replacing Rubies For Tash in Grimsey’s barn is another newcomer and namesake of his owner Bruce Harpley.
Harps stepped out at Albion Park on Saturday night for the first time for Grimsey, where the seven-year-old arrived with 11 wins in 59 career starts.
Sent to the post as the punters-elect, Harps did not disappoint, leading throughout with Nathan Dawson in the sulky to claim a first-up victory.
Taking his rating to NR70 following the Qualifying victory, expect to see Harps in the winner’s enclosure more often with the Harpley/Grimsey combination hitting the right chords.
When the weather in the central west of New South Wales starts to chill down, Chris Frisby likes to pack the float and head north for his annual Queensland pilgrimage.
This year, with a change to the roster of the Australian Pacing Gold Race Series, Frisby has had to send some of his firepower earlier than the main team to chase the riches.
Taking over Hes Sweet- the 2020 two-year-old APG Brisbane winner - for good friend John Boserio, meant that Frisby had two horses contesting heats last Tuesday.
Hes Sweet was the first to contest a race where the gelding was a narrow second behind Frontliner, finishing just on two metres away from the Grant Dixon-trained winner.
Frisby then saddled Aunty Bella in the fillies division, with the Western Terror three-year-old drawn in gate seven but moving into gate six with a scratching.
Partnered by Adam Sanderson, the pair moved forward at the start and were content to sit outside the leader, Lillies, throughout the event.
With the final quarter run in sub-28 seconds, Aunty Bella was able to dig deep to claim a gritty win in a 1.56.2-mile rate, the fourth win of her career.
The win also secured connections the second win QBRED bonus with the filly bred in Queensland by Monarch Farm, having been sold in the 2019 APG Brisbane sale.
Aunty Bella has now had seven starts at Albion Park - six of those coming during her 2020 winter trip - to record three wins, including last season’s Triad Consolation when claiming her career benchmark 1.55.1 win.
With the weather not quite cold enough to leave Bathurst just yet, Frisby has entrusted another good friend in Mal Charlton with Hes Sweet and Aunty Bella for the second round of APG heats.
With the first frost of the winter arriving last week in the central west, Frisby is finalising plans on which horses will be making the trip from his 2021 pilgrimage, and with plenty of firepower at his disposal, it shapes as another successful Queensland winter.
Broodmare National Gallery was looking at having two starters at Albion Park on Saturday night, with the Artsplace mare due to be represented by Rocknroll Icon and Looking Fabulous.
Rocknroll Icon was having his seventh start since joining the Redcliffe stables of Donny Smith in tackling the Changeover Band 5 Pace with Angus Garrard in the sulky.
‘The Kid’ has now partnered Rocknroll Icon at all seven starts and the pair have developed a strong association that has now returned three wins and two minor placings.
Sent forward to sit outside the leader over the 2138-metre event, Garrard was content to sit at the wheel of the leader and favourite, Watch List.
After a steady opening quarter, the second and third splits were run at 28.8 and 27.6 for a strong 56.4 middle half, with Watch List unable to cope.
Rocknroll Icon however was in for the fight, pulling clear of his rivals to create a winning break and hold on to claim a smart victory, three-and-a-half metres clear of the fast-finishing Square Dealer.
The win was the 15th career victory for the son of Rocknroll Hanover, with the gelding owned and bred by Bill and Anne Anderson from Lauriston Bloodstock in Victoria.
Looking Fabulous was set to take her place in the Pryde’s Easifeed Mares Qualifying Pace but was scratched from the race.
Having faced some issues since arriving in Queensland, Looking Fabulous has been unable to recreate her best form since arriving with Donny Smith back in October 2020.
However, that was not the end of the night for National Gallery.
Her four-year-old son Honolua Bay was set to line-up in the last event at Geelong and he proved to be the star of the family on Saturday.
Trained by David Aiken and driven by James Herbertson, the Somebeachsomewhere gelding was in beast mode in front over the flying mile.
Carving out an opening quarter of 26.9 backed up with a third split in 26.6 seconds, Honolua Bay smashed the Geelong track record, carving over one-and-a-half seconds off the previous mark held by Mach Dan.
Six straight days of harness racing action in Queensland commences with a Monday night meeting at Redcliffe this evening.
The week will consist of three meetings from Redcliffe and three from Albion Park.
Monday is an addition to the usual schedule from The Triangle of Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon, with six races on the card offering a QBRED cash bonus on top of the winning stakes.
Three meetings are scheduled from The Creek, with Friday’s meeting a night fixture to coincide with the regular Tuesday afternoon and Saturday night slots.
Tuesday will see the second round of Australian Pacing Gold heats for the three-year-olds with heat one filly winner Aunty Bella drawing favourably from the inside gate.
Friday’s meeting will host heats of the APG Gold Bullion Series, with separate heats for each sex on the path to a $50,000 Group 2 Final to be held on May 1.