Akasaki on Highway to become next Artlee

SYDNEY Aug 23 2016

Muswellbrook trainer Todd Willan believes Akasaki is the best horse to come to his stable since Country Championship winner Artlee.

The three-year-old will be put to the test in the Highway Handicap (1100m) at Rosehill on Saturday.

"I've got a very high opinion of this horse," Willan said.

"He's the best one I've been sent since Artlee."

Artlee gave the young trainer his biggest win in last year's $300,000 Country Championship final at Randwick and the horse he hopes can give him a second win in that race will have his fourth start on Saturday.

Akasaki boasts a victory over Alliterate who finished fourth in the Group Three Kindergarten Stakes won jointly by leading Run To The Rose chances El Divino and Astern.

Alliterate and her Pat Farrell-trained stablemate Fifteen Sunflowers are also entered for Saturday's Highway.

Akasaki returned a winner at Tamworth on August 12 after an extended spell during which he underwent a wind (throat) operation.

His only defeat came on debut when he was third behind Miss Amajardan who won at Randwick at her next start.

"He was very green that day," Willan said.

"Last two starts he's been very professional and he'll put himself in a nice spot on Saturday."

Willan said Akasaki could get the chance to emulate his most well-known stablemate in next year's Country Championships.

But first he is looking for him to show he can step up to win the Class Three race on Saturday.

"I'm confident enough without declaring him," Willan said.

"It's a big step up in grade but it's probably the best way to figure out where he sits.

"I'd love for him to come through, show me a bit more and head towards the Country Championships."

The forecast rain in Sydney concerns Willan despite Akasaki winning on a heavy track at Tamworth.

"At Tamworth the other day he didn't like it one iota, it was just ability and class that got him to the line," Willan said.

"He's such a big striding horse that I'm pretty sure he's going to prefer the better going."

But he considers the engagement of top Sydney jockey Kerrin McEvoy a major bonus.

Farrier James Balfe recommended Willan to Artlee's owners and did the same to the group which races Akasaki.

Artlee is spelling after his Queensland winter carnival campaign with Willan planning to target races in the autumn.

Matt Coughlan - AAP

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