De Lovely further pressed claims for recognition as one of New Zealand's top three-year-old harness racing fillies of the modern era with a brilliant win in last night's (Friday July 16) Nevele R Stud Australian Oaks (2240m) at Melton's Tabcorp Park.
The Geoff Small-trained star made it three Group 1 victories from her past four starts when she joined Pullover Brown (2003) and One Dream (2007) as fillies to have completed the New Zealand Oaks-Australian Oaks double.
Top Kiwi reinsman David Butcher also drove Pullover Brown and said De Lovely, who also lists the Harness Jewels Diamond on her resume, compared favourably with the better three-year-old fillies he's sat behind.
"I've been lucky enough to drive three or four really nice fillies, who have all been a little bit different in their racing styles, but she's right up there," Butcher said.
"The last couple of starts she's been racing really, really well. We thought she was up to it when we brought her over and it was good that she duly delivered."
The daughter ofstarted the $1.70 favourite on account of her great New Zealand record, but that looked a good price passing the post the first time when star WA filly Millwood Meg ($3.30) galloped out of contention.
After landing one out and two back aboard De Lovely, Butcher caught a ride on the back of Rocknrolla in the three-wide line during a sizzling 28.6-second second quarter.
De Lovely was left without cover when Rocknrolla got one off the pegs at the 900m, but Butcher surged his filly forward to assume the death at the 600m.
She then edged closer to the heavily supported Torque In Motion, who was $31 into $12 with TAB Sportsbet, after a 28.4 sec third split and claimed the lead soon after straightening before pulling away for a comfortable win.
At the line she had 4.3m to spare over Torque In Motion, who logged a third consecutive Oaks second placing, with Miss Trickin Lombo ($44) more than 12m away in third spot.
The final quarter was a brilliant 27.5 secs, which secured a class record 1:57.5 mile rate - 0.5 secs faster than Make Mine Cullen's old mark.
"She relaxed quite nicely out there and when I asked her, she found another gear," Butcher said. "It was an impressive win."
De Lovely ensured favouritism for next month's Tabcorp Australasian Breeders Crown with her win, but Aussie harness fans won't see her again until after the Victorian heats have been run.
Small is taking her back to New Zealand where he aims to qualify for the August 13 semi finals via next Friday night's heat in Auckland.
CULLEN MAKES IT THROUGH TO CHARIOTS
Make Mine Cullen enhanced her status as one of the key Chariots Of Fire contenders with a strong win in the first qualifier last night at Menangle.
The superstar Victorian mare was too classy for her male rivals in the $20,000 Hondo Grattan Sprint.
The Glenn Douglas-trained daughter ofmade it 11 wins from 16 starts in a season in which she is yet to be unplaced when she proved too strong in the 1609-metre sprint.
Driven aggressively to hold an early spot by Daryl Douglas during a scorching 26.9-second first quarter, Make Mine Cullen was then urged to the front at the 1000m when Living On Fire persisted with a three-wide run.
Douglas got away with a 30.9sec second split, but was under siege when Living On Fire and Ima Rocket Star poured on the pressure at the end of a 30sec third split.
It wasn't long after that that Living On Fire was gone and Make Mine Cullen had Ima Rocket Star's measure, prompting Douglas to slip her some rein.
She opened up a four-metre advantage, which Douglas then worked at maintaining. Ima Rocket Star fought on gallantly but finished 1.5m astern Make Mine Cullen with Deadsetlucky almost three metres back in third.
The final quarter was 27.2secs, which secured a 1:54.9 mile rate.
Internationalplayboy and Erics Legend rounded out the top five to secure their places in the $200,000 Group 1 Chariots Of Fire at Menangle on July 30.
The remainder of the field will be made up of the top five from next week's other qualifier, the Paleface Adios Sprint.
The Susan Hunter-trained Captain Joy is the headline act of that race, but he can expect stiff opposition from Mister Zion, who announced his Chariots campaign on track with an effortless win off 30m last night at Tabcorp Park, Melton.