Rustic Steel made a devastating statement at Newcastle on Thursday afternoon in the first qualifier of the Provincial-Midway Championships, winning the heat by three lengths.
The Kris Lees-trained four-year-old started as a very well supported $2 favourite in the $150,000 race, and punters had it spot on as the son of Deep Field raced away from his rivals in the straight.
Hugh Bowman had to shoulder his way out into clear air at the top of the straight, but once he did, it was all over bar the shouting.
Rustic Steel loomed up and shot away inside the final 200m, with Bowman easing him down across the line for a comfortable victory.
That run took the gelding’s career record to five wins from nine starts, and he now gets his chance to win the $500,000 Provincial-Midway Championships Final on April 9 at Royal Randwick.
Bowman and Lees combined to win the final in 2021 with Cristal Breeze, giving the trainer his third winner in the race, and he believes that Rustic Steel can give him his fourth.
“I’m sure there’s a lot more to come through the other heats but I’m happy to have him in the Final and I think he will acquit himself well,” Lees told Sky Thoroughbred Central.
“I think he is a pretty smart horse, he’s lightly raced.
“Things didn’t go right in the spring, he drew a lot of bad gates and we ended up putting him away with this series in mind.
“He’s probably better than this grade of race so hopefully we can get him to the final in one piece.”
Astero gets there for 2nd right on the line 💪
— SKY Racing (@SkyRacingAU) February 24, 2022
Despite looking like he was in a bit of bother before the turn, Rustic Steel reeled off a scintillating last 200m to really put a gap in the field.
Lees suggested that his horse did it the hard way and that it was “probably a better win than it even may have looked”.
While the Newcastle-based trainer may have had cause for concern from the grandstand, the horse’s star jockey never had any doubt, going on to claim that Rustic Steel will be very hard to beat in the final.
“He has won with authority but his run at Randwick recently was pretty good,” Bowman said.
“Kris has obviously targeted this Championships for some time and he’s the perfect horse for it.
“He’s going to be one of the leading contenders on this performance.”
Astero made good ground out wide late to run second, so the Matthew Smith-trained gelding has also booked his ticket to Royal Randwick on April 9.
Rustic Steel has been wound from $26 into joint favouritism at $6.50 for the Provincial-Midway Championship Final, while Astero has come into $14.