By Geoff Newling
Dux Nutz nearly didn’t start in today’s $20,000 Northern Star 3YO Maiden Plate (1000m) at Ballina but Lismore trainer Daniel Bowen pulled the right rein for his talented three-year-old gelding to win at his third outing. He also made it a stable quinella as Pink Carnation, a three-year-old filly by Dream Ahead, was just a long head away second. Race favourite, Grande Cassadora, was third just in front of the only other starter, the Stephen Lee-trained Phoenix Of Spain.
The seven-race Ballina meeting had been affected by a Monday night storm when some 90mm of rain was dumped on the track. Stewards deemed it safe to race on despite being downgraded to a Heavy 10 and that proved to be the case.
Well-respected senior jockey, Larry Cassidy, rode the first winner for Sunshine Coast trainer Wendy Bannerot and had nothing but praise for the surface after Mjnolnir’s win. “It feels very good,” Larry Cassidy told Sky Thoroughbred Central’s Priscilla Schmidt and Gary Kliese after the victory. “The grass coverage is real good. It’s pretty good really for a Heavy 10.”
Daniel Bowen agreed although he had nearly scratched Dux Nutz from the Northern Star-sponsored 3YO maiden for a few other reasons, mainly his poor effort at Coffs Harbour at his previous start following a promising debut at Lismore. “He was disappointing at Coffs,” Daniel Bowen said. “It was a mystery but his work has been good since although I was thinking about scratching him. Then when there were only four left in it I thought he could go around and still get some prizemoney.”
His worst thoughts cleared massively when he handled the turn well on the outside of his stablemate as he pulled away to a narrow but decisive win. That Pink Carnation debuted well was also a major bonus for Bowen. He said she has been working well and believes she can only improve from that effort.
Hope Island ended a frustrating run of near misses to win today’s Weddings @Ballina Jockey Club Class 3 Handicap (1400m) and complete a winning day for his Lismore trainer. Trained by Daniel Bowen, Hope Island has now won four of his 43 starts and gave his young trainer a winning double. “Been a good day, two winners and a second,” Daniel Bowen said. “Can’t do much better than that.”
Bowen had celebrated a quinella earlier in the meeting when Dux Nutz beat debutante filly Pink Carnation. They were his only runners. Hope island is a five-year-old grey gelding son of Casino Prince and always “loomed” but never really gone on with it. That was until today when Scott Galloway had him just behind the leaders entering the straight.
He hardly had to hit him with the whip, just a couple to ensure he took a run through and then he surged to a decisive victory. “He’s always loomed,” Scott Galloway said. “Today when he sprinted it was all over.”
Daniel Bowen was delighted with the double as well as Hope Island’s performance. “He deserved that,” Daniel Bowen told Sky Thoroughbred Central’s Priscilla Schmidt and Gary Kliese. “Always raced without luck. I thought he might have been in a bit of trouble coming to the turn too but ...”
He said the addition of winkers has also been a help. “I think the winkers have helped a bit too,” he said. “Always had the ability but they have made him a bit more genuine.”
It was also a good day for Ballina trainer Bill Pholi after Miss River Belle skated to victory in the Boxing Day Races @ Ballina Maiden (1000m). The four-year-old daughter of Rothesay had been trained by David Van Dyke for a syndicate including breeder Kevin Kelly. A former trainer Kelly was present to celebrate the mare’s first win in four starts.
“David felt she needed to go back to the country and get some confidence,” Kevin Kelly said. So he rang Bill Pholi and he was only too happy to take her.
Tegan Harrison had ridden her in her first start when she bolted with her when going around to the barriers. There were no such problems for Harrison today. “She’ll get confidence from that,” she said after the win. We’ll have a bit of fun with her.”
Aptly-named Aquajewel sailed through the Heavy 9 track at Ballina today to demonstrate why her trainer thought she was good thing in the tab.com.au Benchmark 60 Handicap (1000m). The Steven Phelps-trained four-year-old daughter of Love Conquers All conquered all in brilliant fashion to grab her third win in 22 starts. Her only previous wins had been on heavy tracks!
“She loves the wet,” Steven Phelps said. “When it rained last night I knew they wouldn’t beat her.” 90mm of rain descended on the Ballina track Sunday night and that set the scene and Aquajewel did the rest, racing as Steve knows she can, sure-footed and free on a track that raced incredibly well after such a huge deluge.
Ben Looker made it a double for the day with another perfect ride and said she was never in doubt. “She really let down,” he said after the win while also complimenting the Ballina Jockey Club and their staff for having such a good racing surface. I couldn’t believe they raced when I got up this morning,” he said. “I thought they’d be off for sure after all that rain but the track has raced really well.”
He also thanked Steve Phelps. “He’s been good to me for a long while,” he said.
Zarco also made the trip up from Coffs Harbour a successful one when the Paul Matts-trained gelding flashed home from back in the field to win the Discover Ballina Wardell Class 1 Handicap (1000m). Like Aquajewel his only win had been on a heavy track and he imitated her effort in brilliant fashion.
David Matts, father of absent trainer Paul, said the gelding son of Zariz had a few “things in his favour”. “The pace was on and the wet track,” he told Sky Thoroughbred Central’s Gary Kliese and Priscilla Schmidt. Outstanding young apprentice Cejay Graham was delighted with the big finish.
“I wasn’t sure how he’d go first up but the pace was on early and he did it really well,” she said. “I just had to give him a trouble-free run.”
Feature race of the day was the Wardell On The River Hotel Benchmark 65 Handicap (2650m). The staying test had been cut asunder by the overnight rain leaving just six of the 13 runners.
Joueur was up in grade but down in weight and pulverised his opponents, winning by around 10 lengths from Chantilly Chateau and Endless Don. Trained at Grafton by Scott Henley the gelding son of Casino Prince was having his 29th start and notched his third win in demoralising style. “She rode him a treat, an absolute treat,” Scott Henley said of Tegan Harrison’s five-star riding performance.