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  • Writer's pictureJohn Curtis

TRAINERS GO HEAD TO HEAD IN OPENING SERIES QUALIFIER





SUNDAY: February 19, 2023: HAWKESBURY trainers Brad Widdup and Jason and Lucy Keegan-Attard will go head to head when the Polytrack Provincial-Midway Championship kicks off at Kembla Grange on Thursday.

Widdup’s Phearson, resuming and attempting to clinch a hat-trick, and Team Attard’s Sovereign Express, who put a hat-trick on the board at his last campaign, will contest the $150,000 Qualifier (1400m) for both eligible Provincial and Midway trainers, with the first two horses automatically securing berths in the $500,000 Final (1400m) at Royal Randwick on April 8 on Day 2 of The Championships.

Brett Prebble rode Phearson when a close second to fellow Hawkesbury representative, Edward O’Rourke’s Artie’s Aura (who has also been nominated for Thursday’s race), in a 790m trial at Kembla Grange on February 8, and will partner the gelding in a race for the first time on Thursday.

It’s been a long haul to get $65,000 2019 Inglis Classic yearling sale buy Phearson, who hasn’t been out of a placing in only six career starts, to a Provincial-Midway Qualifier.

He was placed at his first three starts in Canberra in early 2021 and sustained a paddock injury before joining the leading Hawkesbury trainer’s stable.

Phearson had been off the scene for more than a year when he won a 1080m trial on the synthetic track at Randwick in April last year – and required further time on the sideline after another accident.

He straddled the bars when returning to the tie-up stalls after the trial, and suffered deep cuts.

Widdup had to stop and start again with Phearson, who followed a first-up second at Hawkesbury on September 8 in a 1300m Provincial Maiden with wins there on September 29 (1300m) and Kembla Grange (1400m) on October 22.

“I’m happy with how the horse is progressing, and he is ready to go to Kembla first-up on Thursday,” Widdup said today.

Sovereign Express, another lightly-raced five-year-old who has won three of his eight starts, goes into the opening Qualifier on the back of a first-up fourth to Mission Value in a Benchmark 72 Handicap (1400m) at Warwick Farm on February 8.

“It was an excellent run jumping up in class, and he has come on nicely since then,” Jason Attard said.

“Sovereign Express is going to appreciate longer distances, but he should still be okay at the 1400m second-up.

“If he qualifies on Thursday, we will probably keep him fresh for the Final.”

Sovereign Express broke through in a 1400m Maiden Plate at Newcastle on June 22 last year before stringing together further victories in a Class 1 Handicap (1600m) at Wyong on July 19 and Benchmark 64 Handicap (1800m) at Hawkesbury on August 9.

“We turned him out after the Hawkesbury win to set our sights on the Provincial-Midway Championship, and he has come back really well,” Attard said.

. Widdup, Hawkesbury’s leading trainer, also is keen to give The Poacher his chance in the series.

The Waratah Thoroughbreds-owned four-year-old, who has won four of his eight starts, resumed when seventh to Parisal in a Benchmark 78 Handicap (1100m) at Rosehill Gardens yesterday.

“I thought he ran well, and broke 33 seconds for his last 600m,” Widdup said.

“He will most likely go to the 1200m Qualifier at Gosford on March 11 (for provincial horses only).

“If he doesn’t finish in the first two there, I still have the option of going to another 1400m heat to try to get him into the Final.”

Hellbent filly Fire Lane continued her Golden Slipper preparation when fourth to Cylinder in the Group 2 Silver Slipper Stakes (1100m) at Rosehill yesterday.

“We wanted to ride her with cover, but didn’t expect her to get back to last in the small field,” Widdup said.

“Fire Lane is such a tough filly, who ate all her breakfast this morning and still wanted more.”

Fire Lane, who beat Cylinder in the Max Lees Classic (900m) at Newcastle on November 12 when on debut, was having her first start since finishing a gallant fifth to Skirt The Law in the $2m Magic Millions 2YO Classic (1200m) at the Gold Coast on January 19.

Her final lead-up to the Group 1 Golden Slipper (1200m) at Rosehill on March 18 will be in either the Reisling Stakes (1200m) at Randwick on March 4 or Magic Night Stakes (1200m) at Rosehill a week later.

Both races are restricted to fillies and are run at set weights.

Widdup is delighted with his star mare Icebath’s progress as he readies her for her second start this campaign in Saturday’s Group 2 Guy Walter Proven Thoroughbreds Stakes (1400m).

Icebath goes back to racing against her own sex after an excellent first-up fourth to Anamoe in the wfa Apollo Stakes (1400m) at Randwick on February 11, and will carry 58kg under the set weights plus penalties conditions.

“Very happy with her; she is in really good order,” Widdup said.

Icebath is being set for the $4m Group 1 Doncaster Mile at Randwick on April 1, and her owners have decided to offer her for sale at the Inglis Chairman’s Sale at the Riverside stables on May 4.

The $5.2m earner, initially purchased for $100,000 as a 2018 Inglis Classic yearling, clinched a Group 1 breakthrough at Flemington last spring in the Empire Rose Stakes (1600m).

“Icebath has been the backbone of our stable and, whilst we always knew this day was coming, obviously everyone her will be very sorry to see her go,” Widdup said.

. John O’Shea’s second stable at Hawkesbury claimed its ninth winner of the season (and Hawkesbury’s 116th) when Premise ($2.70 favorite) scored impressively at Gosford yesterday, at only her third start.

Although she began awkwardly, Alysha Collett had the well-named Contributer filly (she is out of a mare called Sharp Proposition) quickly into a good position, and she was strong at the line in defeating Picko Rocks ($3.70) and Balinor ($12) in the Maiden Handicap (1600m).

A New Zealand Ready To Run purchase, Premise holds an entry for the $1m Group 1 Australian Oaks (2400m) at Randwick on April 8.

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