FOUR times winner Kris Lees has been a slow starter in this year’s Polytrack Provincial-Midway Championship, failing to qualify a runner in the first four heats for the $500,000 Final (1400m) at Royal Randwick on April 8 on Day 2 of The Championships. Now he has two representatives – and a great chance to make it three Final victories in a row after import Acquitted trounced his rivals in today’s 1350m Qualifier to join stablemate Cloudland, who ran second at Kembla Grange a week ago. A dashing ride by Koby Jennings, who was permitted by RacingNSW stewards to declare 0.5kg overweight and landed his third winner of the day, saw Acquitted circle the field and beat Hawkesbury pair Cross TheRubicon and Soloist. Whilst Lees has two finalists (with the 1400m Wildcard at Newcastle on Thursday being the last chance for trainers to qualify their horses), leading Hawkesbury trainer Brad Widdup has three, courtesy of Cross The Rubicon, who joined stablemates Phearson (Hawkesbury Qualifier winner) and last week’s Kembla Grange 1400m record breaker Short Shorts in another Qualifier. Acquitted’scomprehensive victory didn’t go unnoticed by market framers at TAB.com.au, who reacted by shortening his quote for The Final to $6 third favorite, not far behind other heat winners Kayobi ($4) and Short Shorts ($4.50). Jockey Aaron Bullock was replaced on four rides as he was overweight, and RacingNSW stewards intend to interview him on a date to be fixed.Overnight rain resulted in a substantial downgrade to a “Heavy 10” for the beginning of the meeting, but was upgraded to a “Heavy 9” immediately after that race was run, and remained there for the rest of the program.
Race 1 – LAKES PODIATRY 3YO MAIDEN PLATE (1000m):HARDLY the best start for punters when heavily-backed favourite Russian Rose ($2.40 to $1.90) couldn’t even manage a placing in a field of six. She settled outside the leader and eventual winner DE POET ($3.90), but didn’t appear comfortable handling the home turn and was unable to finish the race off, being edged out on the line by third placegetter Bantarki ($12). Warwick Farm trainer Jason Coyle had set his lightly-raced gelding DE POET for a first-up tilt, having won both his trials (804m and 974m) on his home track earlier this month. A $50,000 Inglis Classic yearling sale buy in 2021, he was having only his third start and first since November. Jockey Koby Jennings had him away smartly to lead, and he never really looked in danger in the straight, although Beauty Bound ($6) on debut was doing good work at the end and got close after beginning awkwardly. A Sebring filly, she had trialled three times in preparation for her first appearance in a race, and is definitely going to be better suited as she gets over more ground.
Race 2 – REWARD HOMES PROVINCIAL CLASS 1 HCP (1350m):LEADING Hawkesbury trainer Brad Widdup claimed his 46thwinner of the season – but not with the horse most punters had hoped. Widdup put winkers on both his representatives, and jockey Koby Jennings made it victories in the opening two races when FUN SUNDAY ($4) overpowered stablemate Justina ($2.15 favorite) in the closing stages to post her second career success (along with six placings) at her 13thstart. Even though she finished ahead of her stablemate in a Benchmark 64 Handicap (1200m) at Newcastle on March 9, Justina was clearly the best backed of the pair. Locally-trained Uncaged ($3.20) was also well in commission at his first start for Kristen Buchanan, and got his own way in front with a comfortable lead. Stewards advised Buchanan that a warning would be placed on Uncaged re his racing manners after he blundered on jumping and hung out rounding the home turn and in the straight and proved difficult to test. Justina’s rider Alysha Collett, concerned Uncaged was getting it too easy, began to improve her position from the 600m, and looked the winner when she took over in the straight. However, FUN SUNDAY had the drop on her and was strongest to the line.
Race 3 – LIFEFUL CLASS 1 & MAIDEN PLATE (2100m):The well-named DOMINGO (out of a mare called Falsetto) made short work of his rivals here and looks to have a future as a stayer. Bookmakers took risks and bet as much as $1.90 before he firmed to start a dominant $1.50 hotpot – and his backers never had a moment’s worry. Jockey Alysha Collett gave him the run of the race in third place behind Balinor and Strobing before making her move at the 600m, and he was dominant over the last 200m. A $115,000 Ready To Run purchase in New Zealand in 2021, DOMINGO has been taken along steadily by trainer John O’Shea, who ran him only once as a two-year-old, and he is really hitting his straps now, with a trip to Melbourne firmly on the cards. DOMINGO broke through in a 2000m Class 1/Maiden Plate at Canberra on March 12, and handled the heavy ground here without any problems. Rank outsider Flatout Elle ($51) and Australian Citizen ($19) filled the minor placings, but were never likely to catch the winner, who scored by a widening four plus lengths. Whilst the form might look questionable considering the runner-up has won only one race – and that was at $151 in a 1600m Maiden at Gosford in June, 2020 as a three-year-old – from 19 starts, DOMINGO continues to improve and does look capable of going on to better things.
Race 4 – PETER MAC’S SERVICE CENTRE MIDWAY MAIDEN PLATE (1600m):FULL marks to jockey Keagan Latham, who ran third in the second race at Rosehill Gardens at 12.45pm on Waverley ($8.50), then changed and headed straight to Wyong for the 3.05pm event. The drive to the Central Coast was worth it as he was successful on favorite VEGAS OUTLAW ($3.50) for trainer Sara Ryan, who struck a blow for the locals in scoring with the six-year-old gelding for Domeland Pty Ltd. The Casino Prince six-year-old was a $20,000 yearling buy for his original trainer Jarrod Austin, but did not race for him after trialling on four occasions. He has been with Ryan for all nine starts, and doesn’t lack heart. He looked in trouble when headed by third placegetter Meerut ($8.50) after straightening, but fought back strongly to regain the lead and then held off Kim Waugh’s Riley Park ($4.40), making it a quinella for local trainers. VEGAS OUTLAW was having his fifth start this campaign and followed up on a previous second placing, though beaten easily, in a 1400m Maiden Plate at Kembla Grange on March 10 when he raced as though the extra 200m would suit.
Race 5 – THE ARY 2YO MAIDEN PLATE (1200m):WITH dual Group 1 winning parents Dundeel and Secret Admirer, it was no surprise blueblood TOWNSEND ($5) made a successful debut for co-trainers Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott. Ridden by Winona Costin, who continued her formidable association with the stable at the provincials, the colt was always handy and, after having to alter course to gain clear running, burst through on the inside of favorite Snippety Star ($2.80) to grab the lead not far from the post. He beat the Godolphin stablemates Vividness ($5), who was also having her first start, and Abstruse ($7). TOWNSEND fetched $360,000 at last year’s Inglis Australian Easter yearling sale, and being by Dundeel, looks certain to continue to improve as his distances are increased. He had been given two recent trials; the latest when runner-up to The King, who also made his debut last Wednesday on the Kensington track and was a strong finishing second. Snippety Star made the running and appeared to travel comfortably enough before being collared in the closing stages and was beaten less than a length in finishing fourth.
Race 6 – NATIONAL AIR PARTS MAIDEN HCP (1350m):THE outsider winning a four-horse race! How often does it happen? Newcastle trainer Mark Minervini’s decision to book apprentice Georgina McDonnell proved telling as her 3kg claim meant DUBAI FLYER ($7) carried 2.5kg to 4kg less than his three rivals. A $50,000 yearling buy for Minervini Racing, DUBAI FLYER is out of an unraced mare by renowned wet track sire Snitzel. He raced outside the leader and favorite Just An Upstart ($1.90), and looked gone when he became unbalanced on the home turn and looked likely to run last of the quartet. However, he balanced up in the straight and, courtesy of his weight advantage, gathered in his opposition to defeat Theoneandonly ($4.60) and Just An Upstart. DUBAI FLYER was having only his second start and, though beaten clearly on debut in a 1280m Maiden at Muswellbrook on March 10, did make some ground when last of 14 runners at the 800m.
Race 7 – POLYTRACK PROVINCIAL-MIDWAY CHAMPIONSHIP QUALIFIER (1350m):KOBY Jennings not only clinched a treble, but deservedly earned ride of the day plaudits. He didn’t wait for someone else to make a move and, when trapped wide on ACQUITTED ($3.10) in the second half of the field, took off nearing the 600m and circled the field. Kris Lees’ import again showed his liking for heavy ground, having won his first Australian race last May on a “Heavy 8”, and went right on with the job, pulling away in the last 200m to score by two and a half lengths from Hawkesbury pair, Brad Widdup’s Cross The Rubicon ($21), who just nudged out Claire Lever’s Soloist ($61). Lees was adamant beforehand that Acquittedhad taken improvement from his first-up fourth to True Crime in the Newcastle Qualifier (1400m) on March 9, and the overnight rain put the icing on the cake. Cross The Rubicon’s performance in defeat was full of merit. She began awkwardly and contacted the off side barrier partition, then shifted in abruptly and lost a couple of lengths as a result. She came from last and tried hard to match the winner, whilst Soloist ran his best race this campaign. Kim Waugh’s solidly backed favorite Conrad ($2.90) raced up on the speed, but faded to finish eighth. His jockey Keagan Latham afterwards told stewards he felt Conrad didn’t handle the heavy ground even though he had some prior wet track form. The gelding displayed a poor post-race recovery. Fielding (ninth at $10) pulled up 1/5 lame in the near foreleg.
Race 8 – TWIN LAKES AIR & SOLAR CONDITIONAL BENCHMARK 68 HCP (1200m):NEWCASTLE trainer Nathan Doyle celebrated a quick two-State double when PAD THAI ($8.50) finished best for his second win from his last three starts. Doyle less than a quarter of an hour earlier had seen his promising four-year-old Kipsbay extend his picket fence to four when he bolted in at Eagle Farm. PAD THAI settled in last place in the field of seven, but rider Lee Magorrian got a split on him between runners when it mattered and came from nowhere to defeat Mr Polar ($19), who looked like causing an upset when he took the lead on straightening and was run down only in the closing stages. Akaka Falls ($10) was the widest runner in the straight and kept up a strong gallop to finish a close third. Favorite Ningaloo Star ($2.90) harmed her chances by being slowly away after being fractious in the barrier. In the circumstances she wasn’t disgraced in finishing fourth and may be worth another chance. Second favorite Our Lady Stardust ($3.10) also was slowly away and finished last of seven runners. A post-race veterinary examination did not reveal any abnormalities.