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  • Writer's pictureJohn Curtis


Image: Bradley Photos

SUNDAY: May 28, 2023: NEARLY half a century after clinching a breakthrough success, Mike Van Gestel continues to train winners.

So much so that his victory with No Statement at Kembla Grange yesterday was his ninth of the season; his best since 2010-11 when he prepared the same number of winners.

And the Hawkesbury trainer has done it in 2022-23 with only two horses – yesterday’s winner and Titan Star.

No Statement ($2.90 favorite) is in career best form, having won four of his last five starts.

Apprentice Molly Bourke began like a flash on the four-year-old gelding in the Provincial Benchmark 68 Handicap (1000m), and he led throughout to hold off another Hawkesbury representative, Brad Widdup’s Party Doll ($3.60), who turned in an excellent performance in defeat, having no luck at all being forced to race wide throughout without cover.

No Statement scored over 900m at Wellington on March 26, then over the same distance at Newcastle on April 12.

His last two wins have at Kembla Grange over 1000m, and apprentice Bourke has partnered him in both.

No Statement’s only recent blemish was a city failure on the Kensington track on Anzac Day in a Benchmark 72 Handicap (1000m) when he tailed the field home, but there were excuses.

“He slipped at the start and nearly sold out, then had to race wide and without cover,” Van Gestel explained today.

“I might have to go back to town next to find a suitable short course race to try to get a hat-trick with him.”

Van Gestel, who trains solely for he and his wife and family members, has had 44 starters this season, and all but one of them have been No Statement (who has won five races) and Titan Star (four). He has a win strike rate of just over 20 per cent, has also had 15 placings with the pair and they have earned just over $237,000 prizemoney.

Van Gestel has been training since 1976, and his first winner Louisa’s Joy (named after his wife) at Rosehill Gardens on April 20 the following year initially got him into trouble.

“We had just bought our farm, and my wife asked me why I had gone and bought a horse,” he recalled.

“Then the bank manager came out and said: ‘What are you doing?’

“I told him I had to earn some money. I don’t drink or drive fast cars, but I like horses.

“I won with the first four horses I bought, and never have more than four in work.”

Van Gestel had initially hoped to buy No Statement’s older half-sister Sakura Blossom (by Vancouver) at an Inglis Australian Broodmare and Weanling Sale in Sydney in 2018.

He bid on the weanling, but missed out when she went to New Zealand interests for $50,000.

Sakura Blossom the following year fetched NZ$150,000 when sold at a Ready To Run Sale and won two of her only three starts.

The Van Gestels at the same sale were able to purchase for $12,000 her dam Berning Affair (by Bernardini), who was in foal to Press Statement – and No Statement was the result.

The gelding’s career record stands at 38 starts for eight wins and 14 placings, and earnings of nearly $243,000.

Berning Affair had been an $85,000 Australian Easter yearling sale buy in 2012, and was unplaced in her only two Victorian starts before being retired.

The Van Gestels bred a filly by Spieth from Berning Affair, whom they subsequently sold to Gerry Harvey.

Van Gestel won a pair of Group 3s in 2015 (Angst Stakes, 1600m at Royal Randwick and Eclipse Stakes, 1800m at Sandown) with Casino Dancer at $51 and $13 respectively.

Their homebred mare also was placed in the Group 2 Matriarch Stakes (2000m) at Flemington that year, along with the Group 3 Hawkesbury Cup (1600m) the following year.

Unfortunately, she died producing her only foal, a Deep Field colt whom the Van Gestels reared courtesy of a foster mother.

The now five-year-old gelding fetched $200,000 at the 2019 Australian Easter yearling sale, and fell on debut at Hawkesbury in August, 2021. He has since won two races in Queensland.

Van Gestel has travelled plenty of kilometres in the first 10 months of the season, and could be on the road again on Thursday searching for win no 10 as Titan Star is entered for a Benchmark 58 Handicap (1200m) at Nowra, where he has won twice.

. The Hawkesbury trainer was the sole provincial winner at the Kembla Grange meeting, but fellow Hawkesbury trainer Claire Lever was back in the winning list at today’s TAB fixture at Wellington.

Lever ended a frustrating run of minor placings when $3.60 chance Romantic Rock (Kayla Nisbet) edged out another Hawkesbury trainer Mick Attard’s Gypsy King ($9) in the Maiden Plate (1400m).

Romantic Rock, a three-year-old filly by Divine Prophet, fetched $50,000 when offered at the 2021 Magic Millions Gold Coast yearling sale.

She was Lever’s 25th career winner; her previous success being with Gingembre at Queanbeyan on November 26, and she has had 11 placings since before breaking through again today.

Her victory with Romantic Rock was Hawkesbury’s 173rd for the season, coming on top of Brad Widdup’s Royal Randwick success yesterday with Phearson and Van Gestel’s Kembla Grange triumph with No Statement.

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