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  • Writer's pictureJohn Curtis


AUGUST 7, 2023: HAWKESBURY’S Rowley Mile will be the starting point for former English stayer Protagonist as he begins a new campaign for a new trainer.

Now in the care of Newcastle’s Kris Lees, the Australian Bloodstock-raced seven-year-old was previously prepared by Newmarket-based William Haggas, one of the UK’s most respected trainers for the last four decades and a five-times Group 1 winner in Australia, including three of the last four Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) at Royal Randwick.

The $200,000 Pioneer Services Rowley Mile, which carries Listed status, will be run on Thursday week and highlights the first of the Provincial Showcase meetings in this new season.

The seven supporting races each carry prizemoney of $50,000 - $5000 above normal provincial purses.

Protagonist had three autumn starts in Sydney this year for Haggas, and won the Group 3 Sky High Stakes (2000m) at Rosehill Gardens on March 11 for James McDonald at his local debut.

That was the first time the son of Wootton Basset had contested a stakes race, having run in handicaps back home and even a 3200m Maiden Hurdle at Punchestown (Ireland) in November, 2021.

After taking the Sky High, he was switched back to 1600m three weeks later to contest the Group 1 Doncaster Mile at Randwick, and finished 12th to Mr Brightside on a “Heavy 9” surface.

Five of Protagonist’s six career wins have been on good tracks, including his Sky High success at Rosehill.

He has trialled twice since joining Lees’ team, both over 1000m, at Wyong on July 10 and Gosford 16 days later.

After finishing last of eight at Wyong, he settled third in the Gosford trial and dived through late to nab stablemate Animate in the last couple of strides.

“I’m happy with how Protagonist is progressing, and the Rowley Mile looks an ideal starting point for him,” Lees said.

However, he is not looking ahead to his hometown $300,000 Group 3 Newcastle Gold Cup (2300m) at Broadmeadow on September 15.

“That will come up too quickly for him,” Lees said.

“But there are plenty of 2000m races in Sydney in spring, and five of his six wins have been at that distance.”

. Meanwhile, leading Hawkesbury trainer Brad Widdup’s now retired star Icebath has been named as one of three finalists for the NSW Provincial Champion Horse Of The Year.

The others are Lees’ Group 1 Queensland Oaks winner Amokura, and Kembla Grange trainer Kerry Parker’s good mare Hope In Your Heart.

The winner will be announced at the NSW Racehorse Owners’ Association Night Of Champions black-tie evening in the Royal Randwick ballroom on Thursday, August 31.

Icebath, who clinched Widdup’s maiden Group 1 victory in the Empire Rose Stakes (1600m) at Flemington last spring, was sold in May for $2.3 million to Yulong Stud. She earned $5.2m on the track in a career which netted five wins (including the inaugural The Invitation for fillies and mares at Randwick in 2021) and 16 placings.

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