Handing the lead over with a lap to travel in a semi-final – it is a move than not many drivers would be happy to make, but Bernie Hewitt did just that on Wednesday evening.
It was part of his plan to take the win in the first 1730-metre Soldiers Saddle Semi-Final at the Bathurst Paceway and it worked.
Steering $1.60 favourite Scarlet Babe, Hewitt took the lead early then eased the tempo.
As the bell sounded Anthony Frisby decided to get things going and charged from seventh spot with Uncle Ryan to snatch the lead. It was a move Hewitt had anticipated.
“I knew Anthony would be coming, it would just depend how much work I did off the gate, it was a decision I had to make,” the Georges Plains trainer-driver said.
“It just planned out as I thought it would, Anthony’s horse had been going well, it’s nice and strong.
“She can’t do it both ends, so when Anthony’s came aggressive it was good to have the option to let a nice horse go.”
Scarlet Babe had impressed a week earlier when winning her heat of the annual series, one which Hewitt won in 2002 with Mount Auburn. But her semi-final run was arguably even better.
The four-year-old Western Terror x Ashlees Babe mare scorched out of her barrier five draw and managed to cross for the lead.
There she stayed until shortly after the bell sounded when Uncle Ryan blazed to the front. Hewitt then remained in the trail until they turn home where he unleashed Scarlet Babe down the inside.
With some 100 to go she was in front again and went on to win by 3.2m over Uncle Ryan ($7.50), while Elle Yeah ($6.50) also impressed as she charged three wide from the rear to take third.
“She was very aggressive herself with about 500 to go when other horses were buzzing around her ... she wanted to go places before she could,” Hewitt said.
“But I sat and waited for the inside run and she came into the lane very nicely.”
Scarlet Babe, who has now won three of her four starts this season, rated 1:54.7 for the trip as she qualified for the December 15 final.
The second heat was taken out in an identical mile rate by the Peter Trevor-Jones trained Ominous Warning ($4.20).
Having won his heat in convincing fashion a week earlier after showing gate speed to claim the lead and dictate terms, his semi-final unfolded in different fashion.
From a barrier 12 draw Amy Rees positioned the seven-year-old one out and four back in the running line, with My Secret Beach (Amanda Turnbull) setting the the tempo.
Having won his last three starts, Turnbull was looking to continue that streak with the $2.50 favourite. With 800m to run My Secret Beach led by one-and-a-half lengths over Brads Luck.
But behind the favourite Ominous Warning had tacked onto the back when Smooth Sailor pushed forward and as they entered the bend, Rees guided him four wide.
While Dennis Picker’s Smooth Sailor poked his nose in front, Ominous Warning was coming hard.
He hit the front with around 40 to go and went on to win by two metres over Smooth Sailor ($34) with Southbound Train ($26) a further two metres back in third.
It was the eighth win from 11 starts this season for Ominous Warning.