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  • Writer's pictureJohn Curtis


THURSDAY: February 22, 2024: LIKE a familiar brand of paint, Mike Van Gestel keeps on keeping on.

The now octogenarian Hawkesbury trainer celebrated his 80th birthday last weekend – and the celebrations became even more coloured with a winner at his home track yesterday.

What was a good day anyway scoring with $15 chance Dark Glitter very nearly became a special birthday “gift” to savour when stablemate Sizzling Tale ran a close second at $81 in the previous race after triple figures were bet.

Van Gestel and his wife Louisa bred both Dark Glitter and Sizzling Tale, although they no longer have the dams of the respective “girls”.

After beginning his training career nearly 50 years ago in 1976, he won his first race with Louisa’s Joy at Rosehill Gardens in April the following year, and was successful with the first four horses he prepared.

Apprentice Molly Bourke rode her seventh winner for Van Gestel on Dark Glitter, who took full advantage of clear galloping room on the inside section of the track in the straight to upset fancied pair Reigning King ($2.30) and fellow Hawkesbury trainer Blake Ryan’s $1.95 favorite Santasia in the Blakes Marine Provincial Class 1 Handicap (1000m).

She also partnered Sizzling Tale, who looked like winning for a good portion of the straight until caught in the closing stages by $4 favorite Skiesthelimit in the Workers Lifestyle Group Maiden Handicap (1000m).

Dark Glitter, a younger half-sister (by Spieth) to Van Gestel’s 11-times winner No Statement, won her second race at only her third start, and prompted her trainer to have a crack at the approaching Polytrack Provincial-Midway Championships series.

“Both Dark Glitter and Sizzling Tale are lightly raced and still learning,” Van Gestel said today.

“She nearly threw the race away when she veered out sharply after hitting the front, and Molly had to straighten her.

“It was only 1000m yesterday, but I’m sure she will handle 1400m as she gave the second and third horses five or six lengths start.

“They ran 33.35 seconds for the last 600m, so Dark Glitter obviously ran quicker than that.

“We’ll have a look at one of the 1400m Qualifiers coming up.”

Van Gestel attempted to qualify Charlie Chap in 2018 when the annual series was for provincial trainers only, but he drew awkwardly in a 1400m Kembla heat and came from well back to finish a close fifth, beaten only one and half lengths, when the first three placegetters made the Final.

Sizzling Tale was having her sixth start, following two country placings, and her trainer was peeved that she was rated so poorly for yesterday’s race.

“I noticed on television that she had been given a 22 rating and was the rank outsider, so I had a bit of a lick at 150-1,” Van Gestel said.

“It was still a nice result for the place, but of course would have been so much better had she won.

“Racing at home in small fields was definitely an advantage for both horses.”

Van Gestel keeps no more than four horses in work, and said he has tried to sell both Sizzling Tale and nine-times winner Titan Star, who hasn’t raced since scoring over 1000m at Canberra on January 12, but is in work.

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