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  • Writer's pictureJohn Curtis


MONDAY: November 13, 2023: JAMES Ponsonby is having a beaut season – and puts it down to his move to Hawkesbury earlier this year.

Ponsonby won his seventh race since August 1 – and in terms of winners is second only to leading trainer Brad Widdup (16) – when former New Zealander James Barrie ($12) scored at Queanbeyan today.

Ridden by Shaun Guymer, the seven-year-old outstayed his rivals in the Benchmark 58 Handicap (2000m) under 61.5kg topweight.

“The opportunity to relocate from the country six months ago to set up a provincial training base at Hawkesbury has been so important,” Ponsonby said en route home.

“The facilities are excellent, and the horses are happy.”

All of Ponsonby’s winners this season have been at different tracks.

Walk Up Start scored at Gundagai on August 8, Socrates at Gosford on August 24 and Kembla Grange on November 7, Sandastan at Corowa on September 19, Grenoble at Bathurst on October 27, and Semper Fortis at Wagga on November 3 preceded James Barrie today.

“James Barrie won at Avondale and Ellerslie early in his career, and ran sixth in the Avondale Guineas (2100m) at Ellerslie as a three-year-old in 2020,” Ponsonby said.

“But he lost his way as a four and five-year-old, and I bought him online through Gavel House for not too much in winter last year.

“Winona Costin rode him well and won first-up for us at Kembla Grange over 1400m in August last year, but it was totally unexpected.

“I realise now heavy tracks are not his go, but I ran him three times to find out.

“Shaun (Guymer) is a strong rider and I was pleased to have him on James Barrie today.

“He stood over him a couple of times in the run, and hopefully that win will bring his confidence back.”

Despite conceding runner-up Urjuwaan ($4.40) a tidy 7.5kg, James Barrie defeated her comfortably. Another Hawkesbury representative, Wendy Haynes’ Threw ($3.30 favorite), was third.

. Fellow Hawkesbury trainer Edward Cummings is leaning toward Melbourne over Newcastle on Saturday for his talented four-year-old Strait Acer.

Strait Acer has been given 57kg for the $1m The Hunter (1300m) at Newcastle, but 2kg less for the Group 1 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes (1400m), which carries the same prizemoney at Caulfield.

“Why wouldn’t you consider a Group 1 in Melbourne when he has less weight,” Cummings said this afternoon.

Strait Acer’s NSW benchmark rating has skyrocketed since winning a Midway Benchmark 72 Handicap (1400m) at Royal Randwick in early September.

His rating is now 106 from 78 after winning a Benchmark 88 Handicap (1600m) at Randwick on September 16, then running second in the $1m Silver Eagle (1300m) there on October 14 and fourth in the $10m Golden Eagle (1500m) at Rosehill Gardens on November 4.

It seems incongruous that he has only 2kg less in The Hunter than early favorite and Group 1 winner Mazu.

Mazu’s earnings stand at just over $5m, whereas Strait Acer has won just under $950,000 to date.

Meanwhile, Strait Acer’s stablemate Duais has been sent for a well-earned spell after a fruitful but luckless Melbourne Group 1 campaign, and thus isn’t going to Hong Kong for the International meeting at Sha Tin on December 10.

Duais was placed in the Underwood Stakes (1800m) and Caulfield Stakes (2000m) at Caulfield and last Saturday’s Mackinnon Stakes (2000m) at Flemington, and also a close fourth in Romantic Warrior’s $5m Cox Plate (2040m) at The Valley, where she did not get clear running in the straight.

“It was good to see her get back into good form, and hopefully we will have her back for an autumn campaign,” Cummings said of Duais, who was recently purchased by Yulong Investments as a future breeding proposition.

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