The first heat of the Darwin Turf Club’s Lightning Wet Season Series for the 2022/23 season kicks off at Fannie Bay on Saturday.
The concept was launched last season with a series of $20,000 heats before a $40,000 final over 1200m (0-70) on Australia Day – January 26.
Gary Clarke, who has won the Top End and Country trainer’s premiership for the past 10 years, celebrated victory in the final with Blue Odyssey.
With Barry Huppatz in the saddle, Blue Odyssey won the first Silks Darwin Lightning Wet Season Final (1200m) from stablemate Mr Cashman (Jarrod Todd) and the Mark Nyhan-trained Pembroke Castle (Sonja Wiseman).
There will be seven heats on this occasion in November, December and January with the final once again scheduled for Australia Day.
Thoroughbred Racing Northern Territory introduced the idea to give racing a higher profile during the off-season, but it was the Darwin trainers who originally proposed the Lightning Wet Season Series concept.
“Top End trainer David Bates, also a former champion jockey in the NT, was pretty instrumental in the early stages – he came up with a bit of a plan,” TRNT chief executive officer Andrew O’Toole said.
“We were happy to work with the trainers, who suggested that we do something off-season.
“The first heat on Saturday is a Benchmark 54 Handicap over 1200m (Darwin Racing Handicap), and it has attracted a very healthy and highly competitive field of 10 runners.
“Accommodating the mid-grade sprinters, horses are awarded points based on where they finish in a heat – five points for a win, three points for second, two points for third and one point for unplaced runners.
“They’re sort of for the mid-grade horses – it’s like a mid-grade sprinting series.
“When we do the programs we look at the races that will be applicable, normally in the 0-64 or Benchmark 54 grade – even up to the 0-70, so it’s in that sort of grade.
“We pay bigger stakes for the heats – they’re $20,000 races rather than the normal $17,500 or $18,500.”
Highest qualifiers by points gain entry to the final, while in the case of horses tied on the same points the horse with the highest rating will gain preference with the horse with the highest stake-money earned next preferred.
To be eligible for the final, a horse must have had at least one start in a heat of the series.
The 2022/23 Lightning Wet Season Series is as follows:
Following the success of the inaugural Lightning Wet Season Series in Darwin, the TRNT introduced a Winter Series to the Alice Springs Turf Club’s program with the same conditions basically applying.
The Lisa Whittle-trained Liberty Blue (Sonja Wiseman) won the $40,000 Ladbrokes Winter Series Final (1200m), a Benchmark 66 Handicap, on August 26 from Jess Gleeson stablemates Bartolini (Wayne Davis) and Sedona (Adam Nicholls).
“Race fields and horse numbers drop away in the Top End and Red Centre following the Darwin and Alice Springs Cup Carnivals,” O’Toole said.
“After the Wet Season Series at Fannie Bay, obviously we believed that something similar needed to be run at Pioneer Park in the Red Centre as well and therefore the Winter Series evolved.
“There was originally going to be just seven heats in the Red Centre, but such was the popularity of the concept that three heats were divided.
“Alice Springs trainers really supported it – we had some good fields.
“We were pretty pleased with the results in Darwin and Alice Springs, and hopefully we can grow it further.
“The Wet Season Series and Winter Series has certainly got merit and potential.”
O’Toole has faith in the Wet Season Series and Winter Series adding that if the interest continued and where possible the TRNT could provide further assistance financially heats might jump to $25,000 with each final perhaps increasing to $50,000 in stakes.