IT DOESN'T get much better than this for a young trainer like Alex Ashwood, barely five months into a training career in his own right.
During a harness racing season punctuated by big moments, another will arrive this Saturday night for the Bendigo horseman when he heads to Tabcorp Park Melton with three runners in Group 1 Breeders Crown Series 24 finals.
Even more exciting for Ashwood, in his own words - "There's a couple of chances there for us."
While he insists he has had a few bigger nights in racing as a driver, none of them have been during his relatively short, but amazingly productive training career.
Since debuting as a trainer under his own name in late June, he has impressively raced to 39 wins and 38 placings from 114 starters, earning him a top-two spot among Australia's leading strike-rate trainers.
Pardon the pun, but a trio of Group 1 hopefuls in Parisian Artiste, Tay Tay and Lightning Jash on the one big night is very much a crowning achievement for Ashwood, partner Tayla French and their small team.
"It's a bit of an achievement - we only had three horses eligible for the Breeders Crown, but they all qualified," he said
"That's a great team effort for the stable and for everyone involved. It's not easy to do."
Ashwood has always rated Parisian Artiste in the three-year-old trotting colts and gelding final as his best chance of Breeders Crown glory.
His conviction has only strengthened following the son of Love You and the mare Schleck's hard-fought heat win at Maryborough on November 11.
"He's the best trotter in the stable, there's not much between him and Humble Ladd, who just went up to Sydney for the Inter Dominion," he said.
"At this point, he is going to be a really nice horse going forward.
"I do think he should come top four, but as we know, these Group 1s are not easy to win, but if everything works out our way, he won't be too far away."
Parisian Artiste, who was purchased as a 12-start maiden and has since won four of 10 starts, will be driven by French.
The 24-year-old from Heathcote will be having only her second drive in a Group 1 race.
Her first was three weeks ago when she partnered the same horse to ninth place in the $75,000 Victorian Trotters Derby Final at Maryborough.
French, who is enjoying a career-best season, has taken plenty of lessons from her first Group 1 steer.
"It was a different sort of driving style, especially over the longer trip (2690m)," she said.
"It's not over the extra-long trip this weekend, it's only over the 2240m.
"You've got to go in there and not be too confident and not have too many game plans - a lot more can change in these types of races."
French will be sitting behind a horse in undoubted career-best form with three wins and a pair of placings in six starts this campaign.
"His run the other day didn't do him justice, he sat in the (death) chair and he won, which a lot of horses can't do," she said.
"His run was 10 times better than it looked. The headwind up the straight at Maryborough was enormous.
"For him to sit parked and to go the same time as what the stronger heat did ... and the horse that won that stronger heat was sitting behind the leader and did no work whatsoever. It was enormous."
"It (three finalists) is a bit of an achievement - we only had three horses eligible for the Breeders Crown, but they all qualified. That's a great team effort for the stable and for everyone involved. It's not easy to do.- Alex Ashwood
Charged with perhaps the biggest assignment of the three in a star-studded $200,000 three-year-old fillies final, Tay Tay set up her spot in the final with an eye-catching and fast-finishing fourth in last weekend's semi-final behind Bettor Twist, Oaks winner Ladies in Red and Treachery.
A 150-1 chance last week, the daughter of Rock N Roll Heaven is an early $26 hope this time around.
"If we finish top five I'd be over the moon," said Ashwood, who will take the reins behind both Tay Tay and Lightning Jash in the two-year-old colts and gelding final.
"Everything has to work out for her, but she's hit a bit of a purple patch of form and is getting better and better each time she steps out.
"If the tempo is hot and spicy early, she'll be getting home late.
"The three-year-old fillies is the race of the night, there are so many quality horses in the race.
"To be honest, there are probably six or seven fillies right now vying for the honour as the best.
"Had you have asked three weeks or a month ago you would have said Ladies In Red, but the last few weeks it has really evened out."
Ashwood said the stable's third hope Lightning Jash had 'tapered off in form' in recent weeks, but at his best would be highly competitive.
"He's been up a fair while now. He's a nice two-year-old, but probably a few lengths behind the better ones," he said.
"He's done a great job to make the final and I think next season we will see a better horse - a much stronger and faster horse next campaign."
Perhaps a good omen, there will be a certain symmetry at play with the Ashwood stable's chances, with all three horses drawing barrier six.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.