It was an upset result, with an element of familiarity.
Wolfburn, a $17 outsider, took out the $75,000 Darwin Guineas (1600m) at Fannie Bay on Saturday – the feature race on Day 1 of the 2022 Great Northern Darwin Cup Carnival.
The three-year-old gelding, who hadn’t won a race in 13 attempts in NSW before arriving in the Northern Territory, made it five wins in the Guineas for champion Top End trainer Gary Clarke.
Clarke nailed the last feature race in the Northern Territory when he won the $110,000 Ladbrokes Alice Springs Cup (2000m) for the first time with Count Of Essex at Pioneer Park on May 1.
After landing a treble the previous week, jockey Adam Nicholls produced a daring ride by taking Wolfburn to the front before entering the back straight and from that point he was never headed.
Jumping from gate 10 in the 12 horse field, Wolfburn shot across the bow of the early leaders and the fact that he ended up winning the race by four lengths illustrates the significance of the achievement.
Wolfburn had only contested four races from 1600-1870m during his stint in NSW with his best efforts being a fourth in a 1600m maiden at Newcastle and a third in a 1800m maiden at Hawkesbury in March.
He debuted in Darwin on June 4 and saluted in a 1200m maiden as a $1.80 favourite with Palmerbet before finishing fourth behind Pacadow – a starter in the Guineas on Saturday – over 1600m (0-58) a fortnight later as a $1.65 favourite.
Once again Clarke, who is set to win the Top End trainer’s premiership for a 10th straight year, produced his magic touch, but he always had faith in Wolfburn
He was disappointed with Wolfburn’s last performance adding that he was a lot better than what he showed on that occasion and that there was certainly more improvement in the horse.
“Not at any stage did he look like he was sort of travelling like a winner,” Clarke said of Wolfburn after that race on June 18.
Wolfburn clocked 1.34.88 en route to victory – the second fastest time ever recorded in the Guineas.
Finke, also trained by Clarke, stopped the clock at 1.34.81 when he prevailed in 2016.
The last time Nicholls tasted success in a feature race during the Darwin Cup Carnival was in 2013 when he won the Palmerston Sprint (1200m) aboard Action Again for Victorian trainer Neil Dyer.
Nicholls’ victory on Wolfburn in the Guineas mirrored the win he achieved on the Chris Nash-trained Dominus over 1600m (0-70) the previous Saturday.
Dominus sat five wide entering the back straight before hitting the front – and then kept going to street his rivals by six lengths and set a new track record of 1.34.22.
The previous mark was 1.34.53, which was set by 2015 Darwin Cup winner Lightinthenite – trained by Clarke – in the Chief Ministers Cup during the Cup Carnival that same year.
Clarke deserves credit for getting Wolfburn up for the Guineas, but Nicholls seemingly executed the plan devised by the pair to perfection.
“The plan was to go forward just so he could get across after he drew out wide,” Nicholls said.
“He jumped good, he’s come back underneath me, travelled beautiful and at the 600m he just gave a nice little kick and then again in the straight.
“The tactic paid off and we thought he was a chance if we could get him to the front early.
“He never looked like losing, it was a very good run.
“I think we are going to the Derby now – he’s pulled up nice, recovered good.”
Wolfburn led a host of interstate raiders across the line.
The Billy Healey-trained Rising Fire (Paul Denton) from Queensland was second and is clearly one to watch come the $135,000 Ladbrokes NT Derby (2050m) on July 16 as he was well adrift with 800m to go before producing an exhilarating finish.
Kym Healy’s Starlite Valley (Margaret Collett) from South Australia and Amy and Ash Yargi’s Zoomurudi (Jason Maskiell) from Victoria were among the leaders throughout before finishing third and fourth, respectively.
Greg Connor’s $3.50 favourite Flying Start (Jessie Philpot) from Alice Springs, a comprehensive winner of the NT Guineas (1600m) in the Red Centre in April, never got going at any stage and finished seventh.
It was a winning double for Nicholls after producing yet another quality performance in the saddle earlier in the day to guide Swing With Junior to success in the Betfair Fillies and Mares 0-62 Handicap (1200m) for Victorian trainer Kym Hann.
For Swing With Junior and Nicholls it was back to back wins after getting the cash over 1100m (0-58) a fortnight ago.
After success in the Guineas, Clarke can perhaps look forward to further celebration during the Darwin Cup Carnival with confidence if Saturday’s meeting – where he landed a treble – is any guide.
Wolfburn will surely progress to the NT Derby in his quest to become just the third horse to win the Ladbrokes Triple Crown – a $100,000 a carrot afforded to the connections of the horse that can win the Darwin Guineas, NT Derby and $200,000 Great Northern Darwin Cup (2050m) on August 1.
Only two horses have achieved the feat – Brinney (1989) and Ventilago (1996) – with the $100,000 bonus introduced in 1995.
The ever-consistent Syncline (Jarrod Todd) is now a genuine contender in the $135,000 bet365 Palmerston Sprint (1200m) on July 30 after putting a handy bunch of sprinters to the sword in the $30,000 Cleanaway Handicap (1100m).
And the in-form Tugga War (Jarrod Todd) has now come into serious calculations for the Darwin Cup after dealing with open class rivals in the $24,000 Sprout Creative Handicap (1600m).