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Image: Steve Hart
The Team Hawkes-trained Mount Popa has prevailed in the Neville Sellwood Stakes in dour conditions at Rosehill

It was an early move before the turn by jockey William Pike that saw Mount Popa ($3.80) salute in the Group 3 Neville Sellwood Stakes at Rosehill Gardens.

While race favourite Polly Grey ($3.20F) was still stuck in behind them on the fence, Pike took off at the 700m mark and let down into clear running to steal a long head margin at the finish, with Kiwi visitor Marroni ($19) a further two lengths back in third.

The Chris Waller-prepared Polly Grey finally got into clear air with 300m to go, but the bird had flown.

Co-trainer Michael Hawkes was full of praise for the former West Australian hoop, impressed by the Group 1 winner’s initiative.

“I’ve got to give Willie credit, he actually rode a really good race,” Hawkes said.

“He just popped off at the right time at the 700 and to the horse’s credit, he’s third-up on a Heavy 20, it’s pretty painful out there and the last 50 to 100m was a slugfest.

“He probably started knocking up a little bit, but he actually still fought hard and got the job done.

“A lot of these Europeans just take time. We are still learning about them, obviously he’s got a lot of upside.”

Pike, who has recently relocated to Sydney, was confident Mount Popa could sustain a long run and pinch a break before Polly Grey could get into the clear. He was able to get going as they straightened and had built momentum before his more fancied rival was able to be asked the question.

“It was a little bit make or break,” Pike said.

“It was probably a little bit early, but the testing conditions of the track I didn’t want to leave it to chance.

“I knew it was obviously the favourite (Polly Grey), and I knew it was a very good rider (Tommy Berry) and I thought I’d pop him in the clear just a smidge early.

“I know the other horse run me to a head but it was never passing me.”

Hailing from Perth where the tracks barely see any rain, Pike was musing about the wet conditions.

“I’ve seen more rain in the past two weeks than I have in my lifetime,” Pike quipped.

The remainder of the ten-race card was called off after the event, with Racing NSW to advise when the other Group races will be rescheduled.

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