Orange trifecta for Ponsonby tribe

Main: Henry Ponsonby (middle) cheers in delight alongside Sebastian (left), Victoria (right), and James (far right) as his father’s stable landed the trifecta of the 2110m Benchmark 66 Handicap at Orange on Thursday.
Inset: Semper Fortis wins for connections.
Images: Racing Photography.

Former country trainer James Ponsonby returned to his old stomping ground with his family in tow on Thursday and enjoyed a rare result. 

Starting three chances in the 2110m Benchmark 66 Handicap at Orange, the Hawkesbury-based conditioner trained the trifecta with Semper Fortis (Clayton Gallagher, $2.35), defeating Grenoble (Braith Nock, $7) in second and Will To Excel (Mathew Cahill, $4.60) in third. 

In an entertaining staying race, the Michael Lunn-trained Yak (Nick Heywood, $11) led the field along at a good clip, while Semper Fortis was given the run of the race when sitting in a clear second position and some seven lengths off the leader. 

Turning for home, Gallagher loomed up ominously on Semper Fortis, with the pair leading into the home straight before holding on to win from the fast-finishing Grenoble, which flashed strongly when beaten just over a half-length while two lengths back in third was the ever-consistent Will To Excel.

Ponsonby was quick to praise Gallagher for a strong ride on the five-year-old, which went to Orange following a frustrating run of minor places finished at Orange, Queanbeyan and Bathurst. 

“Clayton was very aggressive and put him in the right spot, and just by doing that, the tempo was very strong as we thought it might have been with Yak out in front,” Ponsonby said. 

“He was able to give the horse a really good trip, and that was probably the difference.”

Ponsonby said a little extra work seems to have switched the Tavistock gelding on, with Semper Fortis hitting the line with his ears pricked. 

“He’s consistently been beaten his last three, but I did something I did with a horse three or four years ago when I first kicked off training,” Ponsonby explained. 

“I gave him a really light gallop over four furlongs to try and trick him into thinking we weren’t going racing, and whether that has worked or it was just a very, very good, strong ride by Clayton, I think I’ll leave it with Clayton, and I’m pleased to get the win.”

While Semper Fortis was the winner, it was an eye-catching run by Grenoble, which is off to the paddock. 

“We were looking for that positive performance to finish off the preparation, and the way he hit the line when coming from last, he did a very, very good job to hit it as sharply as he did,” Ponsonby said. 

“We’ll look to take him back and give him a break now and bring him back as a better horse in the winter.”

Will To Excel entered the race after a good win at Orange earlier this month, and the five-time winner continues to deliver for connections. 

“He’s just a little battler, isn’t he? He’s got my heart,” Ponsonby said. 

“He’s just run another good race; all he does is try hard.”

At Orange, it was another excellent day’s racing, and a good mix of victories was shared between country stables and the raiding provincial and metropolitan yards.  

The Kieren Hazelton-trained Turgenev (Jake Pracey-Holmes, $13) surprised punters when winning the 1410m Open Handicap in exemplary fashion. 

Clint Lundholm unleashed Devine Chops (Ronald Simpson, $1.95) in the 1010m Country Boosted Maiden Handicap, and the three-year-old boulted in by three lengths. 

David Smith also scored a victory with the well-named Mike, winning a thrilling 1290m Country Boosted Class One Handicap. 

Orange races again on January 9 when hosting their Family Fun Day.