Darwin Guineas winner Tubthumper makes grand return

Alice Springs apprentice Ianish Luximon after sealing victory on the Phil Cole-trained Tubthumper, a four-year-old mare by Zoustar, in Darwin’s main race at Fannie Bay on Friday. Picture: Caroline Camilleri (Darwin Photography Professionals)

Returning from a spell, Phil Cole’s Darwin Guineas winner Tubthumper impressed by taking out the feature at Fannie Bay on Friday.

Starting at $14, the win by the four-year-old mare by Zoustar was perhaps unexpected, but Cole rated Tubthumper’s chances before the race.

“Tubthumper has been a bit of a surprise package since returning from her a spell,” he said.

“Definitely matured a lot and her work has been far better than what it was in the past, so we’re very happy with her.”

With Alice Springs apprentice Ianish Luximon on board, Tubthumper settled nicely on the rails in fourth place with stablemates Star Magnum and Vunivalu setting a cracking pace out in front – Garry Lefoe’s $3.30 favourite Mighty Murt was cruising in third place.

Approaching the home turn at the 400m mark, Mighty Murt and Tubthumper were making ground on the leading pair as the backmarkers also started to build momentum.

In the home straight, Luximon left the fence and looked to split Star Magnum and Vunivalu as Tubthumper was finishing with a wet sail – Mighty Murt was still in the mix despite sitting three deep.

With 200m to go it appeared as though it would be either Tubthumper, Star Magnum or Mighty Murt before Cole’s Cielo D’Oro ($4.20), an unlikely prospect at the half-way stage, and Saccharo ($9.50), a clear last at the 800m before flicking the switch at the 600m, swooped.

In an exciting finish, Tubthumper pipped Cielo D’Oro (Aaron Sweeney) by 0.3 lengths with third-placed Mighty Murt (Jade Hampson) half a length away and Saccharo (Emma Lines) close by in fourth place.

Tubthumper was a deserved winner, but with 53kg he had a significant advantage over Cielo D’Oro (58kg) and Saccharo (60.5kg) – Might Murt lumped 55.5kg.

Arriving from Annabel Neasham’s stable, where her best efforts were three minor placings at the Gold Coast and Ipswich, Tubthumper won a 1200m maiden in her Darwin debut before saluting over 1600m at 0-58 level in June.

When the Darwin Cup Carnival started in July, Cole’s mare won the $75,000 Darwin Guineas (1600m) to provide teenage apprentice Lines with her biggest win.

With Cole’s former leading rider Wayne Davis as pilot, Tubthumper wasn’t far away when fourth in the NT Derby (2050m) before a last start eighth over 1600m (BM72) on Darwin Cup Day in early August.

For Luximon, who has punched home four winners in the Red Centre this season, it was his first win of the 2023/24 campaign in the Top End.

Lines once again showed her ability by guiding Cole’s Fly Nice, a four-year-old mare by Impending, to victory over 1200m (Class 2) after finding a path along the rails once turning for home.

After two thirds from two Darwin starts, Fly Nice ($4.80) – camped in third place – pounced to overcome Gary Clarke’s fast-finishing Wilsons Prom ($8.50) by a length with Cole’s Lord Fenrir ($21), who led for most of the race, third.

Starting as a $1.60 favourite, the Clarke-trained American Jazz (Jarrod Todd) is arguably the best horse in Darwin at present after making it four straight wins in a five-horse field over 1600m (BM76).

Leading from the outset, the four-year-old son of American Pharoah gapped his rivals in the home straight before toppling Peter Stennett’s in-form The Albion ($8) by 2.6 lengths with Clarke’s Vallabar ($4.60) a further 2.5 lengths adrift in third place.

At the previous meeting on November 18, Dick Leech’s Prince Of Mercia (Hampson) returned from a 10 week break after racing at Kununurra to seal victory over 1100m (0-76) from Mighty Murt and Star Magnum.

Leech and Hampson repeated the dose on Friday when Envenomate, a last start winner at Kununurra in early September, rallied over the concluding 300m to beat Clarke’s Global Wonder ($2.70) and Angela Forster’s Spielberg ($21), who flashed home after trailing the leaders by 12 lengths, over 1200m (0-64).

Patriotic King ($2 fav), Fromthenevernever and Wolf Queen set a ferocious pace early to lead by five lengths, so it was no surprise to see the trio capitulate and finish unplaced in the six-horse field.

Pop Magic ($5) made it four wins from 12 starts for trainer Ella Clarke – Gary’s daughter – when he showed his rivals a clean pair of heels en route to an emphatic victory over 1100m (0-58).

The five-year-old gelding by Wandjina, who has only missed the top four in Darwin on four occasions, sat outside front-runner New York Spirit for the first 700m before taking over at the final bend and kicking clear at the 100m to prevail by 2.3 lengths from Pride Of Limassol – Leech’s $5 hope – and Retiro – Forster’s $4.80 chance, who were far from disgraced.

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