It may have been an inconspicuous appearance to most but Tim Williams' smile told a thousand words at Ashburton yesterday.

It showed that last season's Sires Stakes Final and Northern Derby winner was coming to hand nicely ahead of his imminent race-night return.

Unsighted in a tote race since his emphatic victory in the Northern Derby at Alexandra Park back in March, the son of Auckland Reactor had a quiet time of it in the Ashburton workout, running mid-pack in a field of largely maiden pacers after a winning return at the same location last week.

Not really asked to extend by Williams, who stepped into the driving role for trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, Chase Auckland hit the line strongly and, most importantly, felt fantastic. "It was exactly what we wanted," Williams said. "He's had a really good blow and will take a lot of improvement out of the run."

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What was clearly visible was the notable changes in the makeup of the talented pacer.

During his spell from racing he's strengthened right up and developed a serious presence that demands attention - a change noted by many who saw him in the flesh yesterday.

A winner of eight of his nine starts and close to $400,000 in stake earnings already, Chase Auckland's return will add some real venom to the 4-year-old pacing ranks for some of the major features which lie ahead.

But the camp behind the rising star won't be rushing into anything they don't have to.

"He'll head back to the trials again next week," Williams said. "After that he'll probably be ready for a race and things will grow from there."

Safely through that trial next week the target will quickly become the Chariots of Fire in Australia next year with a number of qualifying options available to connections.

They could head to the JLT Futurity at Cambridge on January 11, with the winner of that race given automatic entry into the Chariots of Fire, or there will be plenty of options available in Australia.

Good enough to be considered a chance to be nominated for this year's New Zealand Trotting Cup, there's clearly plenty of excitement around the All Stars barn about Chase Auckland's prospects.

- NZ Harness News