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GROUP 1 PLACEGETTER DOMINATES CHAMPIONSHIPS OPENER




NEW Polytrack Provincial-Midway Championships favorite Strait Acer will become the first Group 1 placegetter to contest the series when he fronts up in the opening heat at Kembla Grange on Thursday. 

Strait Acer (Tommy Berry) is the $2.50 favorite with TAB.com.au for the $150,000 Qualifier (1400m), where the first two placegetters secure the first places in the field for the inaugural $1m Final (1400m) at Royal Randwick on April 13 (Day 2 of The Championships).

Whilst the talented four-year-old wasn’t even listed in early Final betting and only usurped Newcastle’s Tavi Time as a $3.50 favorite when he was nominated on Monday for the Kembla Grange event, the gelding’s Hawkesbury trainer Edward Cummings says it isn’t an afterthought at all.

“Why not have a crack at the Provincial-Midway Championships?,” Cummings said this afternoon.

“It’s been in the back of my mind since the Group 1 Rupert Clarke Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield in mid-November.

“Strait Acer has won the maximum five races to be eligible, and it was a matter of whether he would sprint well enough on resumption to win at 1200m in the Group 2 Expressway Stakes at Randwick on February 17.

“When he didn’t, the Provincial-Midway Championships became a reality.”

Though Strait Acer didn’t win the Expressway and thus become ineligible, Cummings was very pleased with his performance.




“He was beaten just over three and a half lengths at a distance short of his best, and the winner King Of Sparta is flying and runner-up Coal Crusher (who won the $1m The Hunter at Newcastle the same day Strait Acer contested the Rupert Clarke) is a very good horse as well,” he said.

“Strait Acer went into the Expressway having had only the one trial, so it’s only reasonable to expect further improvement.”

A $25,000 yearling buy, Strait Acer made such rapid improvement last year that he went from a benchmark rating of 64 in February to 106.

His 14 starts to date have yielded the five wins along with three placings and earnings of just over $1.06m.

This is the 10th running of the series, and Strait Acer’s benchmark dominance is such that in Thursday’s Qualifier he is 14 points ahead of closest rival and fellow Hawkesbury representative, Brad Widdup’s smart mare Ausbred Flirt (Kerrin McEvoy), who is a $4.80 second favorite.

As the six Qualifiers and Wildcard (where all three placegetters go into the Final) are run as Class 5 Plates, Strait Acer carries 59kg on Thursday under the set weights conditions; the same as Tavi Time’s stablemate Cloudland (Dylan Gibbons), whose benchmark rating is a whopping 29 points lower.

Despite Strait Acer’s ominous presence, Illawarra Turf Club attracted a capacity field of 16 plus two reserves for Thursday’s series opener for both eligible provincial and Midway-trained horses.

Not surprisingly, though, only two horses are under double figures in the TAB.com.au market.




Cummings has also nominated Strait Acer for the $4m Group 1 Doncaster Mile at Randwick a week before the Provincial-Midway Final. Whereas he would carry 59kg in the latter, he has 52.5kg under the handicap conditions of the Doncaster.

It shapes as a big couple of days for Cummings, as his triple Group 1 winner Duais is ready to begin a new campaign at Randwick on Saturday.

Cummings entered the six-year-old mare, now owned by Yu Long Investments, for both the 1600m Group 1 Verry Elleegant Stakes (formerly Chipping Norton) and 1400m Group 2 Guy Walter Proven Thoroughbred Stakes.

He has chosen to run Duais (59kg topweight) in the Guy Walter against her own sex, and has booked Nash Rawiller.

Strait Acer and Duais’ stablemate Cosmic Lad bolted away with a 1200m Open trial under Tommy Berry at Hawkesbury this morning, and is an entrant for Saturday week’s $1m Group 1 Randwick Guineas (1600m) for three-year-olds.

Cosmic Lad, a son of Cox Plate winner Adelaide, has raced only three times and finished third against older horses in a Benchmark 64 Handicap (1900m) at Canterbury on February 16, 13 days after skipping Maiden class to easily win a Provincial Class 1 Handicap (1500m) at Newcastle.

Story John Curtis, February 27, 2024 - Pics Bradley Photos

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