Billy Owen and Free State fire to win Forbes’ Ben Hall Bullet

Billy Owen and the Brad Widdup-trained Free State after winning the Ben Hall Bullet. Photo: Racing Photography..

Billy Owen celebrated a feature race win at Forbes on Sunday when taking out the reincarnated Ben Hall Bullet 1200m Benchmark 74 Handicap.

The feature sprint was named after famous bushranger Ben Hall, who once frequented the Forbes races in the 1860s, and despite not being run for close to 40 years, the race made a successful return on Forbes’ showcase program, and the $30,000 event attracted some very capable country sprinters.

Riding for Hawkesbury trainer Brad Widdup, Owen jumped aboard Free State ($5.50), with the pair beginning nicely from gate three.

Owen looked to find the rail in the first furlong and sat third before early leader Moetta (Jake Barret, $4.20) for Dubbo trainer Brett Robb was joined by the Tara and Philippe Vigouroux-trained Zouologist (Winona Costin, $3.80 fav.) and the Rodney Robb-trained Rogue Runner (Ash Stanley, $61), with the early speed setting up what would turn out to be a frantic finish. 

Turning for home, race caller Col Hodges aptly described the first 900m of the six-furlong event as ‘torrid affair’ and Owen sat in seventh place on Free State, but the field fanned wide and the heavens opened for the Gundagai product, who quickly moved up to sit level with the leaders. 

Despite suffering some interference from Zouologist, who veered out at the 200m mark, Free State was too strong in the end, defeating Moetta by 0.08 of a length, while in third was Kattegat (Robbie Brewer, $6) from the Nat Jarvis yard. 

“It did work out well in the end,” Owen said. 

“I was going to be a pair further forward, but with the good speed, I had to let my bloke travel and we got shuffled back a bit at the 600m.

“I knew once I got the extra pair back that they were going quick, and he was able to work into it nicely and get the win.”

Owen admitted that his galloper had every right to lose the race after the interference on the home straight, but he praised the four-year-old for finding his feet and getting back on task to win. 

“He (Zouologist) gave me a fair bump and knocked my bloke off balance for a couple of strides,” Owen said. 

“To my bloke’s credit, he is a big and lanky horse, but he picked himself up pretty quickly, and he had the last crack at the favourite, who had to sustain all the pressure up front, but we were good enough in the end. 

“To be honest, I thought my fella was going to win a little easier and the bump cost him a length, so it was a good result.” 

Owen has enjoyed a good relationship with Widdup over the years, and he said he travelled to Forbes confident the Headwater gelding would run well on the firmer track.

“I spoke to Brad this morning, and obviously the horse had been racing in Midways and he told me not to worry about his first-up run on a heavy track because he hates the heavy, and that he needed a firmer track,” Owen said. 

“My manager is doing a good job, and it was good to get back on one for Brad, as he always has his horses ready to go, so you know you are a chance.

“He wasn’t overly confident at Forbes, but he assured me the horse would run well and he was right.”

Owen’s win in the Ben Hall Bullet at Forbes adds to what has been a stellar run of results for the 30-year-old, who has won three from his last seven, including a good victory at Goulburn on Friday when guiding the Keith Dryden-trained Eastern Glow to victory in the 1500m Benchmark 58 Handicap. 

As Ben Hall did some 160 years ago, Owen trekked from Forbes to Gundagai on Monday, with the popular country hoop taking five rides and landing two more winners.

Riding for Nick Olive in the 1400m maiden, Owen won on Gambacorta, before taking out the 1800m Benchmark 58 Handicap on the Gratz Vella-trained Epizeel.