James Ponsonby lands back-to-back Highways with Socrates

The James Ponsonby-trained Socrates and jockey Dylan Gibbons win the TAB Highway Handicap at Royal Randwick on Saturday. Photo: Bradley Photos.

The James Ponsonby-trained Socrates has certainly turned the corner this preparation, with the five-year-old having now registered three victories on the trot. 

The Tavistock gelding won his maiden at Kembla Grange in September of 2020 when under the care of John O’Shea before making his debut for Ponsonby at Queanbeyan late last year. 

It took 10 starts for Socrates to break through for The Oaks trainer, but the penny has seemingly dropped, and following a 2100m Class One Handicap breakthrough victory at Tuncurry last month, he came out and won the 1600m Class Three Highway Handicap at Royal Randwick early this month. 

On Saturday, Socrates made it back-to-back Highway wins, with Dylan Gibbons steering him to a strong victory in the 1800m Class Three Handicap.

While he is currently a model of consistency, Ponsonby conceded it didn’t happen overnight and he praised the efforts of Gibbons, who rode Socrates patiently before finding a hole and pulling away for a tight win over King of Spades (Danielle Seib and William Pike) in second and Leather Jack Lew (Danielle Seib and Ellen Hennessy) in third.

“Six to twelve months ago, that would have been the one word you wouldn’t have used to described him as, but I think today’s win more so shows off the talents of Dylan Gibbons as a jockey,” Ponsonby said. 

“You have him going forward (in the race), and the speed map said we were probably going to be on pace, but Dylan took the quick option there to take cover and the tempo was strong.

“He looked like he was in a bit of trouble there at the top of the straight away, but I had a little bit of confidence because Dylan was more worried about knocking someone down rather than getting out, so I thought he must have a little bit of something up his sleeve.” 

Back-to-back Highway wins have netted connections $110,000 in prizemoney in two starts, and Ponsonby said it was a good result for the owners.

“It’s terrific to win at Randwick. One of the things about these (Highway Handicaps) is that they go for great prizemoney, the owners have a day at Randwick, and I don’t think there is any (track) that rivals this track for history as well as having that opportunity,” Ponsonby said. 

“No one asks you whether it was a Highway or whether it was a Benchmark 78, they are just happy to see you win, so we are very lucky.”

For Gibbons, Saturday’s victory on Socrates was the ultimate 21st birthday present, and the two-kilogram claiming apprentice was happy to share the moment with those close to him.

“It’s even more special I’ve got all my family here today,” Gibbons said.

“I was getting a bit worried there for a bit that I was going to get beat by a close margin, but lucky my old bloke is as honest as the day is long.

“He travelled so well, and when he first come off the bridle, I thought I was going to have a bit more there and I got a bit worried but to his credit, when I got him out into the clear, he knew his job and really dug deep.”

For the for result and replay of the TAB Highway Handicap, readers can click here.