More joy for Gary Clarke at Top End Racing Awards

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It was a clean sweep for the highly successful Gary Clarke stable as far as the equine titles were concerned at the 2022 Top End Racing Awards held at the Darwin Turf Club on Friday night.

Syncline was named Sprinter of the Year and Wolfburn picked up the Three-Year-Old of the Year title, while Count Of Essex secured the Middle Distance/Stayer Award and the Out Of Carnival Performer of the Year Award.

To cap off an extraordinary evening for Clarke, a member of the Darwin Racing Hall of Fame, Syncline was announced as the recipient of the Horse of the Year Award.

Apart from the Darwin Turf Club, the Top End and Country region also accommodates the Adelaide River Show Society Race Club and Katherine Turf Club, with both clubs usually hosting one meeting a year.

Adelaide River, the only grassed surface in the Northern Territory, normally holds its annual Cup Day meeting on the first Saturday in June, but it was transferred to Darwin’s Fannie Bay this year due to damage to the track caused by feral pigs.

The annual Cup Day meeting in Katherine normally takes place on the second Saturday in August following the Darwin Cup Carnival and it went ahead as scheduled.

The fact that the Adelaide River was switched to Darwin meant that the Country Performer of the Year Award could not be presented this year.

The criteria for the award is that a horse must perform with distinction at both the Adelaide River Cup Day and Katherine Cup Day meetings.

There is no denying the fact that Syncline performed with distinction during the 2021/22 campaign as the six-year-old gelding has been a model of consistency since arriving from NSW and debuting at Fannie Bay on June 19 last year.

In his first three starts in the Top End at the end of the 2020/21 season, Syncline, who managed two wins from eight starts for former trainer by Kris Lees, managed two wins and a second.

In his 12 starts during the 2021/22 period from 1000-1300m at the highest level, Syncline achieved four wins, six seconds, a third and a fourth placing and as from December he finished second on five straight occasions.

That changed on July 2 when the Stratum gelding overcame a handy bunch of open class sprinters over 1100m before taking out the $135,000 Palmerston Sprint (1200m) on July 30 with Clarke’s stable jockey Jarrod Todd in the irons.

Two days later, Clarke and Todd combined to secure victory in the $200,000 Darwin Cup (2050m) with Victorian galloper Playoffs.

For Syncline to secure the Sprinter of the Year Award certainly came as no surprise, and based on his record he was a worthy winner of the Horse of the Year Award.

Other nominations for the Sprinter of the Year Award (up to 1300m) were Autocratic (Gary Clarke), Eastwood (Tayarn Halter), El Magnificence (Phil Cole), Ideas Man (Chris Nash), Our Luca (Kerry Petrick) and Smuggling (Phil Cole).

Syncline was also nominated for the Out Of Carnival Performer of the Year Award, but in the eyes of the judging panel he had to play second fiddle to stablemate Count Of Essex.

Count Of Essex arrived at the Clarke stable in late 2018 from the Victorian yard of David and Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig, where he had 10 starts for two seconds, three thirds and three fourths.

Year after year the Street Cry gelding was an honest toiler in the north and to be frank he hadn’t exactly set the world on fire during the 2021/22 season before suddenly finding form in February.

A second behind Pembroke Castle over 1600m (0-76) was followed by a win in the $40,000 St Patrick’s Day Cup (1600m) at a 0-76 level, which is arguably the biggest race in Darwin outside the Cup Carnival.

He then headed to Red Centre where he finished second in the $60,000 Chief Minister’s Cup (1600m) at weight-for-age level before winning the $110,000 Alice Springs Cup (2000m) on May 1 with Jarrod Todd at the wheel.

Not only was it the final career start before retirement for Count Of Essex, who was a seven-year-old at the time, but it was also the first Alice Springs Cup win for both Clarke and Todd.

Count Of Essex retired with a record of 63 starts for eight wins, 13 seconds and 13 thirds, with his success ranging from 1200-2000m and his last two efforts at Fannie Bay followed by his last two efforts at Pioneer Park was enough for him to secure the Middle Distance/Stayer of the Year Award as well.

After finishing second over 2050m (0-66) on Alice Springs Cup Day on the first Monday in August last year, Count Of Essex could only manage two fourths in his next six starts before seemingly finding a new lease of life.

Other nominations for the Out Of Carnival Performer of the Year Award were Jet Jackson (Mark Nyhan), Looking For You (Phil Cole), Masterati (Nicole Irwin), Mighty Murt (Garry Lefoe), Overruled (Emma Steel) and Pembroke Castle (Mark Nyhan).

Other nominations for the Middle Distance/Stayer of the Year Award (above 1300m) were Against The Tide (Emma Steel), Jet Jackson (Mark Nyhan), Starouz (Angela Forster) and Wolfburn (Gary Clarke).

Wolfburn picked up the Three-Year-Old of the Year Award after winning the $75,000 Darwin Guineas (1600m) with Adam Nicholls as the pilot before finishing second behind Venting in the $135,000 NT Derby (2050m) with Jarrod Todd on his back.

After 13 starts in NSW for trainer Bjorn Baker where he managed two seconds, four thirds, a fourth and three fifths from 1200-1800m, Wolfburn won on his Fannie Bay debut when he prevailed in a 1200m maiden on June 4.

A fourth over 1600m (0-58) followed two weeks later before he took out the Guineas by four lengths after hitting the front a long way from home after jumping from barrier 10.

Exiting from gate nine in the Derby, the Snitzel gelding once again assumed the lead early and was in good shape with 200m to go until Venting swooped to win the blue ribbon event for the three-year-olds by almost three lengths.

Other nominations for the Three-Year-Old of the Year Award were Venting (Kerry Petrick), as well as talented sprinters Expert Witness (Tayarn Halter) and First Crusade (Chloe Baxter).

From an individual perspective, Clarke landed the leading trainer’s award for the 10th-straight year, a record, and won the Darwin Cup Carnival’s leading trainer award for the ninth occasion.

Clarke trained 55 winners for the season to finish ahead of Phil Cole (30.5) and Tayarn Halter (21.5), while he had 17 winners during the eight days of the Darwin Cup Carnival to finish well ahead of Tayarn Halter (5.5) and Alice Springs trainer Jess Gleeson (4).

After setting a record of 18 winners during the Darwin Cup Carnival last year, Clarke also won five of the eight feature races with Wolfburn (Darwin Guineas), Playoffs (Chief Minister’s Cup), Autocratic ($40,000 Darwin Corporate Park Cup), Syncline (Palmerston Sprint) and Playoffs (Darwin Cup) saluting.

Clarke’s stable jockey Jarrod Todd was the leading jockey for the third successive year after booting home 44 winners to overcome Paul Shiers (30.5) and Sonja Wiseman (29).

Todd was also the leading rider during the Darwin Cup Carnival for the sixth occasion, amassing 15 wins to eclipse Sonja Wiseman (8), Casey Hunter (6) and Adam Nicholls (6).

Jade Hampson, who has only recently linked up with Adelaide trainers Richard and Chantelle Jolly after kicking off her career for the Tayarn Halter and Lindsay Schmidt stable in Darwin in April, was the Top End’s champion apprentice jockey of the year with six winners.

Holly Meeks (Gary Clarke stable) and Jamie Viney (Nicole Irwin stable and Tom Logan stable) shared the Strapper of the Year Award, while the Character of Racing Award went to popular jockey Adam Nicholls.

The Thoroughbred Racing Northern Territory Off The Track Aftercare Award was won by Karen Ruzsicka for her exploits with and care of her off the track thoroughbreds.

The Women in Thoroughbred Racing Northern Territory Top End Awards went the way of trainer Tayarn Halter (21.5) and jockey Sonja Wiseman (29).

Halter finished ahead of Nicole Irwin (14), Emma Steel (7) and Kerry Petrick (5), while Wiseman held sway over Vanessa Arnott (17), Casey Hunter (15) and Queensland jockey Tessa Townsend (7).

Additional contribution from Andrew O’Toole

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