Trainer Mike Van Gestel is heading back to Kembla Grange on Saturday to try and clinch Hawkesbury a second Polytrack Provincial Championships Final representative.
Van Gestel announced the plan after his underrated three-year-old Charlie Chap returned to the winning list at last Friday’s Kembla Grange Classic meeting. With Jeff Penza aboard, Charlie Chap ($19) was the widest runner on straightening in the Benchmark 67 Handicap (1200m) but ran down his rivals in an impressive performance.
Whilst his victory wasn’t a surprise, his odds certainly were. Charlie Chap started $3 favourite on resumption at Orange on March 5 in a Class 2 Handicap (1000m) when fourth to another Hawkesbury runner, Brad Widdup’s I Am Special. But his run was so much better than it may have appeared on paper.
“Charlie Chap nearly fell that day; it was a really strong run in the circumstances,” Van Gestel said. “He is a good horse, and we’ll come back to Kembla for their Provincial Championships qualifier. I’ve always had a good opinion of him.”
The $150,000 qualifier – the fourth of five in this year’s series – will be run over 1400m on Saturday. When Charlie Chap resumed at Orange, stewards reported he blundered badly, after contacting the hindquarter of another runner, when starting his run approaching the home turn. As a result, he became badly unbalanced.
After virtually losing all chance, he picked himself up and sustained a strong run wide on the track to finish fourth.
Charlie Chap’s Kembla Grange victory was the 51st for Hawkesbury since the beginning of the calendar year, and the third of his career. His previous wins were the 2YO Silver Apple (1000m) at Orange in April last year, and a Benchmark 64 Handicap (1100m) on his home track last September at the beginning of his three-year-old season.
Van Gestel thought enough of Charlie Chap to take him to Brisbane last winter for the Group 1 J J Atkins (1600m) at Doomben.
Hawkesbury currently has one representative in the $500,000 Provincial Championships Final (1400m) at Royal Randwick on April 14. Brad Widdup’s Witches – Hawkesbury’s first winner of 2018 at that track on New Year’s Day – ran third to Just Dreaming and Manhattan Mist in the opening 1350m qualifier at Wyong on March 3.
The first three placegetters in Saturday’s Kembla Grange race automatically qualify for the “big dance” next month.
Meanwhile, talented Hawkesbury youngster Sandbar went close to clinching a start in Saturday’s $3.5m Longines Golden Slipper (1200m) at Rosehill Gardens when he was beaten narrowly by unbeaten Melbourne colt Written By in the Pago Pago Stakes (1200m). But he pushed him right to the post.
With prizemoney of $127,870, Sandbar is just short of making the final field of 16 for the Slipper, but connections remain hopeful he will squeeze into the line-up when it is finalised on Tuesday morning.