Akuta and Muscle Mountain's double for "Dobbie"
By Jonny Turner
Cool, calm, and collected is the only way to describe Olivia Thornley's winning drive behind superstar pacer Akuta in the Ashburton Flying Stakes at Ashburton on Monday.
Thornley set up the first leg of a winning double for the late Ian Dobson and his family as Akuta strode to an easy win just a matter of minutes before Muscle Mountain took out the Ashburton Trotters Flying Mile.
Pulling on Ian 'Dobbie' Dobson's green colours to drive the New Zealand Cup favorite put all eyes firmly on Thornley in the New Zealand Cup's most important race.
And she took it all in her stride, while honouring Dobson in the process.
"It meant a lot to get the win, especially with the passing of 'Dobbie'," Thornley said.
In a straggly old start to the Ashburton Flying Stakes, Akuta was safely into stride but left well back in the field.
"Going into the race all that mattered was I stepped – it didn't matter how fast or slow," Thornley said.
"So long as I took off pacing, I would be happy."
Thornley moved up to sit parked before any serious pace went into the race, and from there, her four-year-old delivered a first-over crush.
"The horsepower he has, you can put him anywhere in a race, and he just relaxes, and when you ask him to go, he just keeps trying," the reinswoman said.
Thornley was thrust into the spotlight this week following the suspension of Mark Purdon and unavailability of Natalie Rasmussen.
Purdon, along with son and training partner Nathan, put their trust in Thornley on Monday, and she repaid that faith with a calculated drive.
"It is amazing, I am so grateful to them for putting me on."
"I am just rapt to be able to repay the faith."
Dobson's colours were back in the winner's circle just two races later when Muscle Mountain powered to victory in the green Cullen Racing silks.
Driver Ben Hope saluted as Muscle Mountain powered away from his rivals to win by a huge six-length margin.
Like Thornley, Hope was wearing a black armband in honour of Dobson.
"I'm not one to do a salute, but I'm incredibly honoured to be driving this horse, and a huge part of that is to Ian, and that salute was for him."
Muscle Mountain was surprisingly beaten in his last start in the Canterbury Park Trotting Cup.
The classy trotter showed he was right back on track with his emphatic win on Monday.
"There's a few doubters out there, but we know we're going to have him tip-top on Dominion day, and today I just wanted to prove to people that he still has to be respected."
There were plenty more outstanding performances on Monday's huge afternoon of harness racing at Ashburton.
Cold Chisel and Aardiebytheseaside ran to excellent Sires Stakes heat wins, while Aardies Express and Sooner The Bettor were also big winners.