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  • Writer's pictureJohn Curtis


THURSDAY: August 24, 2023: WHAT a difference a couple of days makes!

James Ponsonby endured a futile 12-hour return trip to Narrandera on Tuesday, thinking a couple of winners were in the offing.

But after finishing a close second with his first runner ($2.90 favorite Pine Valley), he didn’t get the chance for atonement when the last five races were abandoned because of lightning and heavy rain.

It was a totally different story today when a far shorter return trip to Gosford landed the Hawkesbury trainer his second winner of the season, with Socrates ($4.20) in the Midway Benchmark 68 Handicap (1600m).

Reflecting on his Narrandera sojourn, Ponsonby said the horses, including his last start winner Walk Up Start, were at the barrier for the fourth race, but were called back when conditions worsened.

“After Pine Valley wasn’t beaten far in the second race, I thought we could still win a race with Walk Up Start (Mathew Cahill) in the Class 1 Handicap,” Ponsonby said this evening.

“Mathew kept the colours on for 40 minutes after they were called back, and was obviously keen to ride the horse, but unfortunately no more races were run.

“It was nice to get a Midway win with Socrates today. He has been a good horse and good buy for our stable.”

The now Tavistock six-year-old fetched $300,000 as a yearling and won a Kembla Grange Maiden (1600m) as an early three-year-old in September, 2020 for his original trainer John O’Shea, who then stepped him up to Group 1 company in Montefilia’s Spring Champion Stakes (2000m) at Royal Randwick, where he finished ninth of 13 as a $16 chance.

After six more starts for two provincial placings, Socrates was put up for sale and Ponsonby purchased him online in September, 2021 for $19,000.

He has since won four races with the gelding, including two Highway Handicaps (1600m and 1800m) in succession at Randwick in October last year, and also was third in the Taree Cup (2000m).

“Socrates’ first preparation for us was muddling,” Ponsonby said. “He was thereabouts finishing second, two thirds and a fourth in seven starts.

“He turned the corner the next time when Winona Costin easily won a Tuncurry Class 1/Maiden Plate over 2100m on him last September, and then he won those two races at Randwick.”

Ponsonby was confident Socrates, having his seventh run this preparation, would be hard to beat today after a close and unlucky second in a Benchmark 70 Handicap (1600m) at Eagle Farm on August 12.

Gun Newcastle apprentice Dylan Gibbons gave him a beaut ride, and he scored convincingly from Dolphina ($14) and True Valentine ($81).

“The genuine tempo suited Socrates, and made it hard for the favorite (Pure Hydrogen, who finished last of the eight runners) under his 60kg topweight,” Ponsonby said.

“I was pleased to be able to get Dylan for Socrates. He has a good affinity with the horse, and rode him in his two Highway wins at Randwick.”

Ponsonby is now looking to head back to town with Socrates for a Midway Handicap assignment next month.

Today’s victory was Ponsonby’s career 39th, and the 10th for Hawkesbury trainers in the first few weeks of the new season.

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