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  • Writer's pictureJohn Curtis


TUESDAY, March 26, 2024: UNBEATEN from two starts at the track!

Albeit in weaker class, but it’s enough for Hawkesbury trainer Steve O’Halloran to have a “throw at the stumps” with Jaex in Saturday’s Provincial-Midway Championships Qualifier (1350m) at Wyong.

And he’s hoping Mitchell Bell will be able to continue his successful association with her, given she is on the limit with 54kg.

“Mitchell’s agent said he is keen to ride her again, and I would be pleased to have him on as he knows Jaex well,” O’Halloran said.

The four-year-old mare (her name comes from a combination of the first two letters of her dam Jackpot Queen and sire Exosphere) joined the Hawkesbury trainer’s team in mid-2023, and has not finished further back than fourth in seven starts for her new stable, winning twice and being placed on four occasions.

Jaex’s two career victories have both been at Wyong; firstly in a 1300m Super Maiden last November and then on resumption in a 1000m Benchmark 64 Handicap on March 14.

Bell rode her on both occasions, and produced a pearler in her latest victory, pinching ground near the inside from the tail on the home turn.

“I’ve had the Provincial-Midway Championships in the back of my mind, but wanted to see how Jaex performed when she resumed,” O’Halloran said.

“Because she races so well at Wyong, it’s worth having a go at Saturday’s Qualifier even though she is up in class.”

O’Halloran was concerned his mare might not gain a start on Saturday – the first two placegetters go into the $1m Final (1400m) at Royal Randwick on April 13 – and also nominated her for a Benchmark 68 Handicap (1200m) on the same program at Wyong.

However, she is 16th in ballot order for the Qualifier and as such is guaranteed a start as 16 horses are permitted to start with the rail in the TRUE position.

After Wyong, the sole remaining Qualifier will be held at Newcastle next Wednesday when all three placegetters in the 1400m Wild Card are the last horses into the Final field of 15.

Last year’s Final winner Spangler ran second to Loch Eagle in the Wild Card, then relished a heavy track to turn the tables on his stablemate at Randwick.

O’Halloran’s fellow Hawkesbury trainer Edward Cummings has confirmed Strait Acer as a runner in the Wyong Qualifier, and Koby Jennings will ride the four-year-old.

Placed in the Group 1 Rupert Clarke Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield last November, Strait Acer will carry 59kg topweight.

Favorite with for the PMC Final before he finished sixth to Territory Express in the opening Kembla Grange Qualifier (1400m) on February 29, the gelding is now on the fourth line of betting at $9.

Cummings gave Strait Acer a freshen on the water walker for a while after his Kembla Grange defeat, and has been happy with his progress since returning to the stable.

Strait Acer, with Tommy Berry aboard, had a tick-over trial when third to Highlights in a 1030m heat at Rosehill Gardens on March 18.

Jennings won last year’s Wyong Qualifier on the Kris Lees’ UK import Acquitted, who easily beat Cross The Rubicon and Soloist on a “Heavy 9” track.


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