By Neil Evans
There's no doubt the 2019 Provincial Championship qualifiers are the strongest and most varied depth-wise since the series' inception, and Sunday's first up qualifier at Hawkesbury is testament to that.
While it won't surprise anyone two of provincial racing's most formidable stables are set for a first-up showdown, the depth of horse and trainer should not be understated, with Kembla having a cracking hand across five runners from four different stables!
With the first three placegetters heading to the $500K Provincial Final at Randwick on Apr 13, the two-prong Kim Waugh attack got a further boost on the "map" when both her charges Safado (3) and Spring Charlie (6) drew well in what should be a solidly run race.
Lightly-raced 4YO Safado is the one with significant scope, despite not finishing off in soft ground at Canterbury under lights last start. The post-race feeling was that track was "shifting", considering the gelding showed a natural liking for wet ground in his first prep nearly a year ago.
Ironically Safado returns to the scene of his maiden win on debut bolting in over 1100m, and while it's been a niggling and frustrating stop-start battle since, he heads to Sunday's qualifier in great shape. Certainly, any query over getting the extra trip will be boosted by the kind draw and a nice drop in weight.
High class stablemate Spring Charlie is something of first-up specialist unbeaten at two fresh starts, and fitness won't be a hurdle having looked strong winning both open trials at Newcastle and Wyong. A winner at BM 78 level in town last prep, he will lump 59kg for a race with a CL5 ceiling.
But that duo and the rest will have a fight against Road To Heaven ($7.50), another 4YO gelding unbeaten first-up who looks primed for leading Newcastle trainer and defending Provincial Championship winner Kris Lees.
Supremely bred by High Chaparral out of former Group 1-winning mare Lights Of Heaven (by Zabeel), the bloodlines are there to eventually get over far more ground, but this shapes as the right type of race fresh, and based on his form in early spring, Road To Heaven looks well enough in at the weights, so watch for him charging late.
Since returning as a gelding in the spring, Kembla-trained 3YO Angel Of Truth has put three wins together at home, including first-up a fortnight back at Cl2 level, but this is an acid jump in class, and while naturally dropping in weight, he'll need some luck from a wider gate.
Another Kembla visitor Myprayer also looks well placed off a six week freshen-up and a flashing last start win at home coming from well back in weaker company to run down consistent Judge Judi. Little-known trainer Louise Dean loves to race this gelding sparingly, and there should be enough speed on up front to allow him to work into the finish.
And while the mares are outnumbered nearly four to one, the Somersby stable of Greg MacFarlane on the NSW Central Coast is flying a serious flag for the girls!
Lightly-raced 6YO It's So Obvious made it two wins from her last three bursting through late to upset heavily-backed Miss Que in a BM 76 at Canterbury last start, and she's never been in better condition. And don't be ruling out somewhat unpredictable but talented Second Island who looms as a huge-priced knock-out hope, despite drawing the widest gate.
There's a sense of timing after she hit the line from well back in a BM 70 at Canterbury second-up and now drops to the 54kg limit for what should be a peak run this prep.
My PROV CHAMPIONSHIP QUALIFIER TIPS: 1. ROAD TO HEAVEN; 2. Safado; 3. Angel Of Truth; 4. Spring Charlie.
Elsewhere on a cracking eight race card where a few lanes away from the fence should be the best going, I'm keen on Godolphin filly Colombina ($5.00) first-up in a good quality BM 64 Hcp (Race 5) over 1000m. While the smart Warwick Farm-based filly Prophet's Thumb dominates the early betting, Colombina looks ready to roll off a nice soft trial, and any rain will help, having defeated smart The Art Of The Bar in heavy ground resuming last prep.
And punters should save plenty for the Joe Pride-trained 4YO Homework ($4.00) third-up in another BM 64 Hcp (Race 8) over 1300m to close the day. The gelding really attacked the line second-up at Kembla last start behind Laburnum who has since run well again midweek in town, so this looms as a peak trip, and by late in the day the wider barrier might even be an advantage.