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IT was a pretty special day when James Ponsonby trained and drove four winners at Newcastle during his two decades’ involvement in the harness racing industry.

But never a 1, 2, 3 trifecta until his new role as a thoroughbred trainer brought a “first” at Orange today.

The experienced Hawkesbury horseman started three horses in the Benchmark 66 Handicap (2110m) field of seven – and they filled the first three placings.

Semper Fortis ($2.35 favorite) sat off a solid pace set by rival Yak ($11), who finished second last, and after taking over approaching the home turn, bravely held off stablemates Grenoble ($7) and Will To Excel ($4.60).

It was Ponsonby’s 10th winner of the season (his 44th since turning his hand to training racehorses in 2020), and his wife Keryn is part-owner of all three horses.

“As well as the family being at Orange today, I was also pleased that some of Semper Fortis’ owners were able to make the trip to see him win,” Ponsonby said as he prepared to head back home.

“He did a really good job as he had to cart the field up to the tearaway leader, and then fight on as well as he did.”

Ironically, Ponsonby’s maiden trifecta result almost didn’t happen.

“Semper Fortis was initially going to Canberra tomorrow for a Benchmark 65 Handicap (2000m),” he explained.

“I gave him a light gallop over 800m at Hawkesbury yesterday morning, but decided to run at Orange instead when I heard Canberra had received a fair bit of rain.”

Ponsonby is a great advocate of Inglis Digital, having purchased all three horses online; Semper Fortis for $12,000 in October last year, Grenoble for $13,000 only a few months ago, and Will To Excel for $8000 in April, 2021.

“Semper Fortis has really turned the corner this preparation,” Ponsonby said.

“After winning first-up over 1600m at Wagga, he ran seconds at Orange, Queanbeyan and Bathurst before winning again today.”

The former Victorian and Tavistock five-year-old, a Moonee Valley 1600m Maiden Plate winner in March last year, was having his 21st career start.

“It’s hard to spell him when he is in such good form, so I’ll look for another suitable race in the coming weeks,” Ponsonby said.

As much as Semper Fortis deserved his victory, runner-up Grenoble was rapidly overhauling him as the post was reached.

“He was decidedly unlucky,” Ponsonby said. “That was apprentice Braith Nock’s first ride for me, and he said he was held up at a crucial stage and hit the line strongly when he did get into the clear.

“Will To Excel was outpaced at the end by his stablemates, and is better suited on firmer ground.”

. Gosford trainers Adam Duggan and Nick Mitchell, along with Wyong’s Damien Lane, also were winners today.

Duggan was understandably thrilled to land the Inglis Malcolm Cusick Stakes (1200m) with talented sprinter Diamond Diesel ($2.05 favorite) at his home track’s feature meeting.

Given a perfect ride by apprentice Zac Wadick, who has now joined the stable of leading Hawkesbury trainer Brad Widdup, the former Hong Kong gelding was too classy for his rivals.

He sprinted clear in the straight to easily defeat Growl ($6.50) and Bat Out Of Hell ($6) to post his fifth win for Duggan, and lift his earnings beyond $250,000.

Mitchell headed north to the Bowraville TAB fixture, and won the opener, the Maiden Plate (1370m), with lightly-raced five-year-old Count Rollo ($5), ridden by Kacie Adams.

Externus ($3) was having his first start since joining Lane’s team when he rolled $2.30 favorite Midnight Harry in the CG&E Maiden Plate (1200m). Stablemate Tidal Impact ($13) tried hard to give him a Gosford double, but after beginning awkwardly and then veering wide on the home turn when she hung out, couldn’t overhaul favorite Satin and Silk ($2.90) in the Benchmark 64 Handicap (1000m).

Stable apprentice Anna Roper rode both horses.

RacingNSW stewards ruled Tidal Impact will have to trial to their satisfaction before being cleared to race again.

Story John Curtis, December 28, 2023 - Pics supplied


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