Craig Newitt sent the Melbourne jockeys’ premiership back into a deadlock at Sandown on Wednesday, maintaining a duel that has been delicately poised for the past month.
With four city meetings remaining for the season, Newitt and reigning champion Luke Nolen are level on 68 wins thanks to an upset victory over his arch-rival in the opening race.
Nolen had seemed certain of success on the odds-on favourite Planet Voyage in the Event Landscaping Solutions Hcp (1000m) until Newitt arrived in the last stride on King’s Pardon, a giant youngster who almost fell at the start.
The pair went winless for the rest of the day, setting up another tense renewal of their battle at Flemington on Saturday.
As the jockeys fought for their title, trainer Robert Smerdon used the Sandown meeting to pass another milestone in an outstanding career.
Smerdon saddled his 100th winner in Victoria this season when Stoneblack won The Cove Hotel Handicap (1800m).
Stoneblack ($2.80 fav) ambled home by 5-1/2 lengths from You Think So ($3.80) with Mosseltov ($4) third.
While he has 100 winners on Victorian tracks, Smerdon has already passed the century nationwide.
He has a total of 111, including winners in Sydney and Adelaide and has also claimed four Group One races, all with star filly Mosheen.
Five-year-old Stoneblack backed up brilliantly after finishing fourth to Bianmick at Caulfield on Saturday.
“He takes no harm from racing,” Smerdon said.
“He’s got a great constitution and the performance today was better than the one four days ago.
“You look at him and you’d almost think he still needs the run.”
Smerdon described Stoneblack as a reliable horse who was a hard worker and a steady earner.
“He had 16 runs as a two-year-old and that’s his 63rd start,” he said.
“He hasn’t won many times, only eight races, but he has won half a million (dollars).
“He’s a good horse to own.”
Smerdon said he was not aware he was within one win of finally reaching the mark of 100 Victorian winners.
“I didn’t realise it was 100 in Victoria – any milestone is good.”