By Ray Hickson
When James Ponsonby snared his first city win with Proven Class just two weeks ago he made a point of thanking Mark Newnham for giving him the perfect grounding to be a trainer.
Ponsonby, 37, is well known in harness racing circles but eventually gave that up to work as Newnham’s Warwick Farm foreman for almost two years before chasing his own racing dream when taking out his own license in August.
With that milestone now out of the way Proven Class returns to town for the $125,000 Country Classic (2000m) at Rosehill on Saturday and Ponsonby is hoping the momentum can continue.
“I’ve been very well trained by Mark in regards to how to prepare thoroughbreds,’’ Ponsonby said.
“I got a free kick of maintaining a barn of 36 horses for roughly two years with Mark and I was able to see some very talented horses including Nakeeta Jane and Shadow Hero who were both out of the Warwick Farm stable.
“To me it was a revelation that you could just feed horses, work horses and if they had the talent you could end up with a Group 1 winner. In harness racing it isn’t the same.
“Mark would come in Monday, Wednesday and Friday to watch the fast work and the rest of the time I was there to take care of everything.
“I was given a fantastic opportunity to hone my skills on thoroughbred racing and training. I make sure they are very fit and don’t cut any corners.”
It took Ponsonby just a month to train his first winner Obelos, who will accompany Proven Class to Rosehill for the TAB Highway (1500m), and he’s a very hard marker when it comes to turning over the horses in his care.
He currently trains eight horses, that number will swell to about a dozen next week when some two-year-olds arrive, and he’s quite keen on Proven Class ahead of her ‘grand final’ for the preparation.
The mare produced a big finish to win an 1800m Highway at Randwick on October 24, defeating subsequent winner Rent A Rock, and while the Country Classic is harder Ponsonby said she couldn’t be going into the race with a better lead up.
“This is the race we targeted from the time I took her on, this was her grand final for the preparation,’’ he said.
“She’s out of a mare called Older Than Time who ran second in a Sydney Cup (2011) over 3200m.
“She’s in great form, drops 2.5kg, she retains the same rider and the barrier is neither here nor there.
“I think she is a great lightweight chance, there are several horses in the race you can make a case for but I don’t think any of them are any better than she is.”
Winona Costin rode Proven Class, $10 with TAB, to that Highway win and Ponsonby said a wet track should be of no concern with how the race is run a more vital aspect.
“Tempo is probably going to be very solid and I just think everything lines up that if we can have a smooth run in transit she will run as well as she did at Randwick,’’ he said.
“It’s a race you’re not just meeting no better than Class 3s so I would be absolutely rapt if she can win. She’s a very talented mare, she’ll really give them a shake.”
Proven Class wins at Randwick on October 24
Obelos is also a $10 chance in his Rosehill assignment and Ponsonby expects him to be ridden a little differently to his last start seventh behind Amy’s Shadow in a 1600m Highway at Randwick a month ago.
After coming from off the speed to win at Albury and Kembla, Obelos led and couldn’t sustain the gallop as he weakened to be beaten four lengths.
“Rachel (King) will give him a lovely trip and if we can get him nicely covered up, let the tempo of the race unfold for him, he should finish off the race well,’’ he said.
“I gave him a trial a fortnight ago to keep him ticking over and he trialled against a horse called Spirit Ridge, he was one of the horses I used to take care of at Warwick Farm for Mark.
“He’s a talented horse and Mark had a good opinion of him, so (Obelos’) effort in the trial was honourable considering he’s about 17 base points below Spirit Ridge.”