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THEY don’t come much tougher than Titan Star!

His dam died five months after he was born, and Hawkesbury trainer Mike Van Gestel says his six-year-old hasn’t had a “real spell in two years”. But there he was lining up on Canberra’s ACTON (synthetic) track yesterday for his 83rd start – and pulling out a typically gutsy performance to clinch the seventh win of his career.

Having his 15th start this preparation, after a short let-up of six weeks between early March and mid-April, and backing up from a Kembla Grange run only last Saturday, Titan Star ($4.40) carried 59.5kg and overcame an awkward barrier to land the Benchmark 55 Handicap (1080m). The gelding’s victory took his earnings to just over $223,000, and his record would be even better if some of his 21 placings had also been wins.Van Gestel didn’t bother seeking an apprentice’s allowance to lessen the gelding’s handicap, preferring to keep non-claimer Molly Bourke aboard.

The now Sydney-based apprentice had ridden Titan Star at seven of his previous eight starts this campaign, and earlier won on him at Orange in January. “Titan Star can be a tricky horse to ride,” Van Gestel explained today. “I have told different jockeys that he is a horse who needs to be pushed forward, but they underestimate what I’m saying. “If he gets back behind horses, he can spit the dummy. “Molly was in tears and apologised when she rode him at his first start on the synthetic track at Canberra last month. “She sat back off the leaders and he finished fourth. “Molly understands now how Titan Star has to be ridden, and that’s why she rode him hard yesterday to get across from the wide barrier.

“He showed plenty of guts to fight on and win, but I do feel he is better on grass tracks.”

Titan Star wasn’t disgraced when fifth (beaten only two lengths) in a stronger Benchmark 64 Handicap (1000m) at Kembla Grange last Saturday – won by the so far unbeaten Dancing Alone from the promising Jedibeel – and dropped back to a Benchmark 55 yesterday.

“I didn’t do much at all with him between the two runs, but did take him to the track,” Van Gestel said. “He hasn’t had a real spell in two years, but often when you give these horses decent spells, it can be hard to get them back.”

Titan Star, a son of Rubick, is the last foal of the Flying Spur mare Sporty Spur, whom the trainer and his wife Louisa purchased “on spec” for $13,000 after six unplaced trials without racing, at an Inglis broodmare and weanling sale in April, 2017. She was carrying Titan Star, and gave birth to him in October that year before a bowel complication took her life the following March.

“I’ve unsuccessfully tried to sell Titan Star a couple of times,” 79-year-old Van Gestel, who trained a benchmark 10 winners last season with two horses (Titan Star and No Statement), said. “I might put him on the market again, as I’ve got another young horse coming through and don’t want too many. “But I’m well in front because he wasn’t sold.”

HOOFNOTE: Van Gestel and apprentice Bourke are likely to team up again chasing a city victory together on the Kensington track on Wednesday.

No Statement has 63kg topweight in a Benchmark 72 Handicap (1000m), and Bourke’s 3kg claim will come in handy if the trainer decides to run the gelding.

A five-year-old who also carries the Van Gestel “bone and muscle”, No Statement has won nine races and been placed 14 times from 43 starts, and earned just over $276,000.

. Newcastle apprentice “Locky” Scorse rode the fourth winner of his career, at Taree yesterday, and then had to survive a protest.

Local trainer Wayne Wilkes took advantage of Scorse’s 4kg claim in the Benchmark 74 Handicap (1000m), thereby lessening the mare’s weight from 60 to 56kg.

In a tense finish, Scorse got Austeja ($15) home narrowly from $20 chance Lucky Sham, and RacingNSW stewards subsequently dismissed a protest lodged by connections of the runner-up.

Newcastle trainer Mark Minervini’s $2.15 favorite Fire And Ice was third after having no luck and being forced to race wide from an outside barrier.

Article by John Curtis, 19th August 2023. Photo: Bradley Photographers

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