Newcastle Jockey Club hosted its second meeting for the week on Thursday with the running of the Provincial-Midway Championships Wild Card.
The track drew wide praise on Monday when hosting its first ever Group 1 meeting when the remaining races from Rosehill’s washed-out Saturday card were transferred to the Hunter track.
Premier trainer Chris Waller described Newcastle as a “metropolitan-class track” and suggested the venue should be utilised more often, with his thoughts echoed by a number of other trainers, jockeys and officials.
Following the seven races held on a Soft 7 Monday, Thursday saw a downgrade to a Heavy 10 after more rain had fallen during the week and continued to fall for parts of the afternoon. In what seems to be the new normal conditions recently for New South Wales racing, some found the going too tough, but the track held up well and the eight-race program was run without issue.
Hugh Bowman and William Pike stole the show, claiming all but one race between them.
Bowman came out firing, winning the first four races before Pike claimed the fifth.
Top apprentice Reece Jones got a look in winning the sixth before Pike came back to win the last two.
The feature race on the card was the $150,000 Provincial-Midway Wild Card over 1400m, offering the last chance for a definite berth in the $500,000 Final on Day 2 of The Championships on April 9.
The Jason Coyle-trained Pippali ($4.20F) was settled wide and worse than midfield by Pike before looming up around the outside. With runners spread across the track, Pike had a clear run and took the lead at the 150m before pulling away for a comfortable 1.11-length win.
“It was obviously a little bit different with the track conditions (from her previous Qualifier run on March 17),” said Coyle.
“The big key now is to be able to turn her around in the short space of time we have off a Heavy 10 into the Final.
“No doubt we will get a wet track Saturday week, but most importantly it will be how she pulls up and her recovery over the next 10 days.
“There’s a reason I ran her in a Group 2, she’s a pretty smart mare. This has just been a nice opportunity, with the conditions of this series.
“But I still think there will be better races for her down the track.”
Pike added: “I wasn’t quite sure how well she would handle it. I know we talk about wet tracks and things, this was beyond a lot of that, but she was fantastic.
“She ran enormous (in the March 17 Qualifier) and only got third for it and backed it up again today.”
The Kris Lees-trained Tawfiq Lass ($31) flew home from near last going into the straight for second with Andrew Gibbons aboard, as did her stablemate Confessed ($6) ridden by Bowman, who came from ninth at the 400m to finish 1.93 lengths from the winner in third.
French Marine, also trained by Lees, tried to stick with Pippali at the 150m before the Ilovethiscity mare pulled away, but the gelding was able to stick it out and held on well to the line under Aaron Bullock, finishing 1.93 lengths from the winner in a dead heat for third with stablemate Confessed.
“She was the real genuine tracker of our lot, she won one day at Coffs Harbour on as bad, if not worse than this.” Lees said of Tawfiq Lass.
“It’s great for the connections to get her into the Final and she’ll get a similar track Saturday week.”
For the six qualifying races, the first two over the line were given a place in the Final. For the Wild Card, three spots were up for grabs. A dead heat for third was a highly unlikely scenario and there was some confusion after the race from the commentary team as to what will happen.
It appears that both third placed horses will be granted their starting position in the Final, giving Lees a total of eight runners in the now 16-horse field.
Never Talk is current early favourite at $4.50 with online bookmakers.
The Lees-trained No Nay Never (USA) four-year-old mare put on a dominant performance to win the Newcastle Qualifier on March 17 by 3.35 lengths to the John Sargent-trained Mayrose.
Pippali was just 0.06 lengths further away in third, but was able to get her second chance on Thursday in the Wild Card and claim her Final berth in impressive fashion.