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  • John Curtis


WEDNESDAY: August 18, 2021: KRIS Lees had already planned a change of tactics with Countofmontecristo in tomorrow’s Listed Pioneer Services Rowley Mile – and an awkward barrier draw sealed it!

The former Singapore star drew 13 in a field of 15 for the $185,000 1600m feature, in which the leading Newcastle trainer also will run Chief Ironside.

“We’ll ride Countofmontecristo more conservatively, and the draw gives us no other option anyway,” Lees said this morning.

“I feel we have been riding him a bit too close.

“I’m really happy with the horse; he is going well.”

The now eight-year-old won 10 (on both turf and synthetic tracks) of 34 starts in his native country, and hasn’t been disgraced in three local outings – all Listed events - since joining Lees’ team.

After an excellent first-up fourth to Adelong in the Bob Charley AO Stakes over an unsuitable 1100m at Royal Randwick on June 12, he found the heavy conditions against him when sixth in the Winter Stakes (1400m) there on July 10.

Countofmontecristo then ran fifth in the Winter Challenge (1500m) at Rosehill Gardens a fortnight later.

The gelding has carried 58kg, 59kg and 58.5kg respectively in his three Australian starts, and drops to 55.5kg tomorrow.

As well as different riding tactics, Lees has decided on a gear change for Countofmontecristo as he bids to get him back into winning form.

“I’m putting a tongue tie on him, but it’s nothing new,” he said. “He raced in a tongue tie in Singapore.”

Lees also has opted to put a cross-over nose band back on Chief Ironside, who raced in that gear when he won the Group 2 Crystal Mile at Moonee Valley in October, 2019.

The seven-year-old was placed in last September’s Group 3 Cameron Handicap (1500m) at Newcastle and resumed in the same race as Countofmontecristo (Winter Challenge on July 24) when eighth; just over three lengths from the winner Order Again, a rival again tomorrow.

“That was his first run since mid-November and, being a stallion, you would expect natural improvement,” Lees said.

Jason Collett, who has won Hawkesbury Gold Cups on Coup Ay Tee (2013) and Fabrizio (2017), rides Countofmontecristo, whilst Hawkesbury specialist Josh Parr partners Chief Ironside.

The Rowley Mile is the only feature race at the track the genial jockey hasn’t won. Parr lists three Group 3 Killahy Equine Hawkesbury Crowns (Serenissima, Pecans and Irithea), a Group 3 Blacktown Workers Club Group Hawkesbury Guineas (Sambro), a Listed XXXX Gold Rush (Tactical Advantage), and this year’s Group 3 Evergreen Turf Hawkesbury Gold Cup on Archedemus among his many credits.

In landing the Gold Cup in May, Parr became the only jockey to have won all four features at the club’s flagship Saturday stand-alone meeting.

For good measure, Parr has also won a Listed Lander Toyota Ladies Day Cup on Strawberry Boy.

Tomorrow’s Rowley Mile, first run in 1881 and thus one of Hawkesbury’s most historic races, carries a record purse, brought about as a result of the club staging the first of the provincial Showcase meetings this season (one to be held at each of the five clubs).

With all seven supporting races carrying $50,000 each, Hawkesbury boasts an attractive $535,000 program.

Not surprisingly, the Rowley Mile has drawn an excellent line-up, with seven-times winner (including last year’s Group 3 Kingston Town Stakes) Taikomochi (Nash Rawiller), last year’s Group 1 ATC Derby victor Quick Thinker (Hugh Bowman) and this year’s Group 1 Queensland Derby winner Kukeracha (James McDonald) carrying the first three saddlecloths.

In an open market, Kukeracha, having his first start since taking Eagle Farm’s 2400m Derby on May 29, this morning nonetheless was a firming $4.80 fixed odds favorite with, following the withdrawal of stablemate Order Again.

Countofmontecristo was second favorite at $5.50, with Berdibek ($6.50) and Riodini ($7) next.

With Order Again’s defection, Sydney training supremo Chris Waller has two representatives; $26 outsider Toryjoy (Kathy O’Hara) being his other.

Waller has already won the Listed feature four times, with Snow Alert (2010), McCreery (2016), Mister Sea Wolf (2018) and Savacool last year.

But he hasn’t yet quite matched motors with Gai Waterhouse, who lends her name six times to the honour roll.

The irrepressible Waterhouse won the Mile on her own with Adamantly (2001), Fiery Venture (2003), Beauty Watch (2007), Rabbuka (2008) and The Offer (2015), then shared the 2017 result (Arbeitsam) with co-trainer Adrian Bott.

Tim Clark and Tommy Berry share recent Rowley Mile riding honours with two wins apiece. Clark scored on Arbeitsam and James Cummings’ Gaulois (2019), whilst Berry’s victories were on the Waller pair McCreery and Savacool.

Clark rides Irish import Surf Dancer ($10) for the Waterhouse-Bott combination, and Berry is aboard another import, Annabel Neasham’s Blue Soldier ($26), who will race in blinkers.

TAB Class 1 Handicap (1800m) favorite Bazooka and Darrin Voss Memorial Benchmark 64 Handicap (1300m) fourth favorite Empowerment have been withdrawn from Kensington engagements today to run at Hawkesbury.

The latter market will be reframed, however, as early favorite Jal Lei is a Kensington starter today, as is another Hawkesbury acceptor Why Doubt, who will come out of the Fowler Civil Contracting Maiden Plate (1300m).

Leading Hawkesbury trainer Brad Widdup, with six wins on the board, is hoping to continue his early season form with four runners.

Sky Racing analyst Paul Joice has tipped Widdup’s dual acceptor Tycoon Hallie (Jay Ford) as his best bet in the Blakes Marine Provincial & Country Maiden Handicap (1300m), along with stablemate, last start Kembla Grange winner Cobia (Clark), in the closer, the 1300m Benchmark 64.

. The rail is in the TRUE position for tomorrow’s meeting, and a “Good 4” rating was posted this morning by racecourse manager Rick Johnston. No rainfall has been recorded in the past week, but 13mm of irrigation has been put on the track in that period, with 3mm in the last 24 hours.

. Paul Joice’s selections are:

RACE 1: CHATEAUX PARK, Fine Ruby, Mantinello.

RACE 2: TYCOON HALLIE, Different Strokes, What A Prince.

RACE 3: STATEMANSHIP, Why Doubt, California Zim Zim.

RACE 4: BAHAMA, Camplin, Vesuvio.

RACE 5: OTELO, Shadow Devil, Latin Lyric.

RACE 6: BOURBON FLYER, A Very Fine Red, Conrad.

RACE 7: KUKERACHA, Riodini, Berdibek.

RACE 8: COBIA, Jal Lei, Empowerment.


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