Trainer Joanne Hardy has an eye on the Country Championships in the autumn if her former Chris Waller-trained mare Bright Lights Baby maintains her excellent recent form at Coffs Harbour on Friday.
The four-year-old Manhattan Rain mare has won two races from just five starts for Hardy since joining her Coffs Harbour stable mid-year. She won a Benchmark 59 over 1600m at Grafton on November 8 at her third run back from a spell then two starts later won a Class 2-SW over 1516m on a soft6 track at Lismore last Friday.Bright Lights Baby looks a great chance of landing back-to-back wins when she backs up in Friday's La Fleur D'Alyse Benchmark 65 Handicap (1600m) where she drew gate one in the nine-horse field.
She will again be ridden by 2kg-claiming apprentice Miki Nakao who partnered the mare in her Grafton and Lismore wins. The track at Coffs Harbour on Thursday was rated a soft 6 which Hardy believes will be ideal for her mare.
"She scored a strong win at Lismore the other day and she's pulled up so well after that win I was keen to back her up again this week," said Hardy. "She should get perfect track conditions on Friday and the step back up to the 1600m will also be ideal for her. I think she has a lot in her favour."
Bright Lights Baby's recent good form around the Northern Rivers was always on the cards as the mare showed some promise in her first 13 starts for the Waller stable.
Her form in Victoria earlier this year included strong efforts behind some smart gallopers. She finished second to Mrs Gardenia at Sandown on February 22, fifth to subsequent Group One winner Montoya's Secret at Moonee Valley on March 13 and second to Spanner Head at Sandown on April 5.
Bright Lights Baby was purchased by Hardy's stable client, the Malaysian-based owner Tiang Tang at the Inglis Great Southern Sale in June.
"She certainly had pretty good form around some city-class horses in Melbourne earlier this year and I think she's grown in confidence dropping in class up here," said Hardy.
"Mr Tang, who has about 13 horses with me, intends to eventually send her to Singapore to race, probably later next year. But in the meantime, we may look at tackling the Country Championships with her or, if not, we may look at a suitable city race for her in the new year."
The Country Championships qualifying races kick off in February. The Northern Rivers qualifying race is at Grafton on March 11 with the $500,000 final at Randwick on April 7.
Hardy said Bright Lights Baby was clearly the pick of her five runners on Friday. She will also saddle up first-starter Star Song (race one), Adsy's Honour (race two), Zippy Snippy (race three) and Supreme Baby (race six).
"Adsy's Honour is probably my next best - she's racing consistently and is very fit," said Hardy. "Star Song is a three-year-old by Your Song making her debut and will improve on whatever she does on Friday."