It was certainly an emotional win for champion Darwin trainer Gary Clarke when $12 hope Count Of Essex won the $110,000 Ladbrokes Alice Springs Cup (2000m) at Pioneer Park on Sunday.
Clarke, the relentless juggernaut in the Top End, has now won all the feature races on the Northern Racing calendar in Alice Springs and Darwin.
The biggest race in the Red Centre has always eluded the former jockey, and he is the first to admit that he didn’t think he would win it with Count Of Essex.
“Never, never in a million years I thought he would be the horse to get me this race,” Clarke said.
“He just came good at the right time.
“It was a Plan B to bring him down here.
“He won the St Paddy’s Cup in Darwin and I thought about retiring him after that.
“Circumstances happened, I thought no I’ll give him a crack at the Alice Springs Cup.”
Certainly proved a wide decision.
Clarke and wife Sharlene lost their son Guy late last year, so there were plenty of hearts pumping in Alice Springs and Darwin when Count Of Essex achieved his best ever win.
Jarrod Todd, who produced a faultless ride, was happy to sit at the rear of the field before working his way into the race when the pressure increased.
The seven-year-old gelding, an arrival from Victoria in December 2018, hit top gear in the home straight before finding a passage along the rails to pip the Garry Lefoe Jnr-trained I Am The Fox (Paul Shiers) in the final 50m to win by just over a length.
I Am The Fox ($5 with Unibet) was aiming for back to back wins in the Cup and looked home with 200m to go before wobbling under his 60kg impost.
Shiers produced a gem of a ride on the eight-year-old gelding – who was positioned midfield before rounding the leaders at the 600m approaching the home turn.
I Am The Fox, who carried 54kg en route to victory 12 months, was well in front heading for home before Count Of Essex (54kg) pounced.
South Australian trainer Michael Hickmott’s $17 hope Danon Roman (Simon Miller), second in the 2021 Darwin Cup (2000m), defied three disappointing runs in Adelaide since he last visited the NT to grab third place – albeit three lengths adrift.
It was a terrific effort by Danon Roman in all honestly, and he certainly made up for the poor showing of stablemate and $2 favourite Lord Bouzeron (Blaike McDougall) – who brought good form to town.
Lord Bouzeron finished eighth after finishing fifth in the race a year ago.
The Mark Nyhan-trained Trident (Sonja Wiseman), starting at $5.50 with the top online bookmakers,/a>, brought exhilarating form to the table and although far from disgraced just found the 2000m a little too rich despite coming fourth.
Clarke and Todd have dominated in Darwin in recent years, and on Sunday they weaved their magic at Pioneer Park.
“What can I say. I’ve been trying to win this race for a long time,” Clarke said.
“It’s the only race I hadn’t won out of the features in the Territory.
“To get to win it with this horse – he hasn’t been my favourite horse over the years, but he has been very honest.
“I’ll pull up on him now – it’s a good way for him to retire.
“I’ve been sitting down here for five weeks – anyway it’s a good way to finish off.”
Count Of Essex, affectionately known as Gerry in the Clarke stable, could not be ignored come the Cup after finishing second behind Trident in the Chief Ministers Cup WFA (1600m) two weeks ago.
After just seven career wins, Todd had every right to be at least buoyant as his Cup mount prepared for his 64th career start.
“A lot of people could argue don’t get carried away it’s Gerry,” Todd said.
“Gerry always runs good races whether it’s a 0-58 or an open race.
“He just always seems to find one better.
“His run the other day in the Chief Ministers – he met Trident at the same weight.
“He only got me by a length, length and a half.
“I knew my horse was always going to be tough at the 2000.
“He dropped 5kg – the result speaks for itself.”
Not only was it the biggest win for Count Of Essex, but it was also Todd’s first Alice Cup and he could not have spoken more highly of his boss.
“To do it for Gary – they’ve been massive supporters of mine,” he said.
“I’ve been very fortunate, they’ve made my job a lot easier.
“To have pay them with a win like this I’m rapt to do it.”
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