Ever since winning on debut in September last year following his arrival from Victoria, Bench Press continues to make waves in Alice Springs.
The five-year-old gelding returned from a six month break on October 29 and was far from disgraced when he finished a length behind South Australian raider Archery Butts in second place over 1200m (0-70).
It was a tremendous effort by the son of Foxwedge, who would have been as rusty as the front gate, but trainer Leanne Gillett had him in good shape.
For Bench Press, it continued a remarkable record in the Red Centre because after eight starts he has finished first on four occasions and second the other four times.
A first up win in a 1000m maiden was followed by a second behind talented stablemate Dakota Lee over 1100m (Class 2) against the three and four-year-olds before he made it back to back wins over 1400m (0-64) in October and November.
Bench Press was spelled before returning in late March where he finished second behind the handy Desert Lass over 1200m (0-70) before saluting over 1400m (0-66) on Day 1 of the Alice Springs Cup Carnival in April.
Greg Connor's Flying Start ($2), winner of the NT Guineas (1600m) before heading north to make an impact during the Darwin Cup Carnival, relegated Bench Press ($1.80 fav) to second place in a 1600m feature for the three and four-year-olds (BM68) on Day 4 of the Alice Springs Cup Carnival.
Flying Start was recently named as the Alice Springs Turf Club's Horse of the Year for 2022, so Bench Press, a nominee in the ASTC Stayer of the Year category, clearly has ability.
A first start 10th for Cranbourne trainers Robbie Griffiths and Matthew de Kock in a 1200m maiden at Bairnsdale in June last year was followed by a fourth and a third in respective 1600m maidens on Pakenham's synthetic surface.
Significantly, the gelding also has the capacity to adjust to varying distances with relative ease.
Having had three weeks to fine-tune his engine, Bench Press will be seeking his first win over 1100m when he takes on 0-70 opposition at Pioneer Park on Sunday.
Stan Tsaikos, the champion jockey in Central Australia for the past two years, has partnered Bench Press in his past six starts and not only does he have a high opinion of the horse, but couldn't fault his effort in late October.
“He ran super first up, he's form in the Alice is outstanding,” the Darwin-based Tsaikos said.
“He was a little bit underdone as Leanne and Terry Gillett informed me, but he ran a good race.
“He's a progressive, nice type of horse – we're expecting a bold showing on Sunday.
“He's definitely going to get a little bit more ground.
“The Foxwedge progeny are pretty adaptable really – they can sprint and stay.
“He's a little more seasoned and we're hoping he can stretch out to a mile and a quarter (2000m) for the Alice Springs Cup next year.”
The husband and wife team of Terry, a former jockey, and Leanne Gillett have left their mark in Alice Springs for many years as trainers, and they've seemingly unearthed another gem in Bench Press.
“Yeah, he's the pick of the up and comers – one of the stable hopes,” Tsaikos said.
“He's still a little bit green, but he's come a long way and is a bright prospect.
“Fingers crossed he can get the job done on Sunday – he should definitely come on from his run first up.
“There's a bit of form in the race, Intercontinental and Cyclonite are going well, but I'm sure the Gilletts will have him ready to go and have him as good as they can.
“Whatever he does he'll only progress and I'm sure going forward he's going to be a nice horse once he matures.”
This time last year, Terry Gillett, who won the 2020/21 Alice Springs and Provincial trainer's premiership, and Tsaikos were flying as a combination, but it has been a slow start to the new season thus far for the pair, as well as for Leanne Gillett following her return to the training ranks.
“The past two seasons were great for the Gillett stable and myself, but a lot of the horses have been spelled and rested,” Tsaikos, who has had four wins in Darwin and three wins in Alice Springs this season, said.
“They will be back obviously for Carnival next year.
“Terry and Leanne are pretty busy training and working together.
“Terry has been riding a lot of the work as their daughter Dakota-Lee, an apprentice, has been riding in NSW.”
For the record, Tsaikos ended last season as the leading rider in the NT with 53 wins – which included 35 in the Alice Springs and Provincial premiership and 18 in the Top End and Country premiership.