Kris Lees has struck the first blow in the $1.55m Polytrack Provincial-Midway Championships and unearthed a major contender for the Final in the shape of Rustic Steel after a powerful win in the opening qualifier at Newcastle on Thursday.
The four-year-old started a well supported favourite and despite finding some traffic midway through the 1400m, Hugh Bowman was able to get him to the outside and he let down with a sharp turn of foot to score by almost three lengths over Matt Smith’s Astero.
Lees, who won three of the seven Provincial Championships Finals prior to the 2022 inclusion of Midway horses, said Rustic Steel is a horse on the way up who should be a force come the April 9 final.
“A really dominant win, I’m sure there’s a lot more to come through the other heats but I’m happy to have him in the Final and I think he will acquit himself well,’’ he said on Sky Thoroughbred Central.
“I think he is a pretty smart horse, he’s lightly raced.
“Things didn’t go right in the spring, he drew a lot of bad gates and we ended up putting him away with this series in mind.
“He’s probably better than this grade of race so hopefully we can get him to the final in one piece.”
Rustic Steel wins the Provincial-Midway Championships heat at Newcastle
The Newcastle trainer said there was some cause for concern when Rustic Steel appeared to get tightened for room in the middle stages as the pace slackened.
But it was clear once Bowman forced his way into open spaces at the top of the straight there was only ever going to be one result as he reeled off an 11.68 for his last 200m (Punter’s Intelligence).
“He got shuffled back a little bit at the 700m and was a bit further off them we expected but he weaved a passage,’’ he said.
“I’d suggest it’s probably a better win than it even may have looked.”
Bowman said he was confident the gelding had what it takes to win his way into the $500,000 Polytrack Provincial-Midway Championships Final (1400m) at Randwick after riding him into third place behind Maotai in a fast run 1200m race when resuming.
“He has won with authority but his run at Randwick recently was pretty good,’’ Bowman said.
“Kris has obviously targeted this Championships for some time and he’s the perfect horse for it. He’s going to be one of the leading contenders on this performance.”
Rustic Steel joined Great News at the top of TAB betting on the Final at $6 while Astero is on the $15 line after grabbing second, and qualifying, in the shadows of the post.
Astero’s trainer Matt Smith said he’s relieved to have the gelding safely into an appointment on Day 2 of The Star Championships and is certain there’s the upside to the horse that will be no doubt needed come Final day.
“It was a pretty good effort because he’s made a long sustained run and he was still fighting away on the line,’’ Smith said.
“It was good for him to get the second, he’ll definitely improve off that. He’s very genuine and like a lot of horses needs that luck in running.”