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  • Provincial Racing NSW


HAWKESBURY trainers Brad Widdup and Jason and Lucy Keegan-Attard will go head to head when the Polytrack Provincial-Midway Championship kicks off at Kembla Grange tomorrow.

Widdup’s Phearson, resuming and attempting to clinch a hat-trick, and Team Attard’s Sovereign Express, who put a hat-trick on the board at his last campaign, will contest the $150,000 Qualifier (1400m) for both eligible Provincial and Midway trainers, with the first two horses automatically securing berths in the $500,000 Final (1400m) at Royal Randwick on April 8 on Day 2 of The Championships.

Brett Prebble rode Phearson when a close second to fellow Hawkesbury representative, Edward O’Rourke’s Artie’s Aura ( also in the field for Thursday’s race), in a 790m trial at Kembla Grange on February 8, and will partner the gelding in a race for the first time tomorrow.

It’s been a long haul to get $65,000 2019 Inglis Classic yearling sale buy Phearson, who hasn’t been out of a placing in only six career starts, to a Provincial-Midway Qualifier.

He was placed at his first three starts in Canberra in early 2021 and sustained a paddock injury before joining the leading Hawkesbury trainer’s stable.

Phearson had been off the scene for more than a year when he won a 1080m trial on the synthetic track at Randwick in April last year – and required further time on the sideline after another accident.

He straddled the bars when returning to the tie-up stalls after the trial, and suffered deep cuts.

Widdup had to stop and start again with Phearson, who followed a first-up second at Hawkesbury on September 8 in a 1300m Provincial Maiden with wins there on September 29 (1300m) and Kembla Grange (1400m) on October 22.

Sovereign Express (Rachel King), another lightly-raced five-year-old who has won three of his eight starts, goes into the opening Qualifier on the back of a first-up fourth to Mission Value in a Benchmark 72 Handicap (1400m) at Warwick Farm on February 8.

“It was an excellent run jumping up in class, and he has come on nicely since then,” Jason Attard said.

“Sovereign Express is going to appreciate longer distances, but he should still be okay at the 1400m second-up.

“If he qualifies on tomorrow, we will probably keep him fresh for the Final.”

Sovereign Express broke through in a 1400m Maiden Plate at Newcastle on June 22 last year before stringing together further victories in a Class 1 Handicap (1600m) at Wyong on July 19 and Benchmark 64 Handicap (1800m) at Hawkesbury on August 9.

“We turned him out after the Hawkesbury win to set our sights on the Provincial-Midway Championship, and he has come back really well,” Attard said.

Widdup, Hawkesbury’s leading trainer, also is keen to give The Poacher his chance in the series.

The Waratah Thoroughbreds-owned four-year-old, who has won four of his eight starts, resumed when seventh to Parisal in a Benchmark 78 Handicap (1100m) at Rosehill Gardens last Saturday.

“I thought he ran well, and broke 33 seconds for his last 600m,” Widdup said.

“He will most likely go to the 1200m Qualifier at Gosford on March 11 (for provincial horses only).

“If he doesn’t finish in the first two there, I still have the option of going to another 1400m heat to try to get him into the Final.”

Hellbent filly Fire Lane continued her Golden Slipper preparation when fourth to Cylinder in the Group 2 Silver Slipper Stakes (1100m) at the Rosehill meeting.

“We wanted to ride her with cover, but didn’t expect her to get back to last in the small field,” Widdup said.

“Fire Lane is such a tough filly, who ate all her breakfast the next morning and still wanted more.”

Fire Lane, who beat Cylinder in the Max Lees Classic (900m) at Newcastle on November 12 when on debut, was having her first start since finishing a gallant fifth to Skirt The Law in the $2m Magic Millions 2YO Classic (1200m) at the Gold Coast on January 19.

Her final lead-up to the Group 1 Golden Slipper (1200m) at Rosehill on March 18 will be in either the Reisling Stakes (1200m) at Randwick on March 4 or Magic Night Stakes (1200m) at Rosehill a week later.

Both races are restricted to fillies and are run at set weights.

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