Jockey Jay Ford has turned back the clock with a daring ride aboard Team Hawkes gelding Archedemus to win the $1 million The Gong.
Ford was the regular partner of champion sprinter Takeover Target, who he rode to eight Group One wins during the 2000s, and has been mainly plying his trade on the provincial circuit this year.
But he made the most of his opportunity aboard Archedemus in The Gong (1600m) at Saturday’s stand-alone Kembla Grange meeting, stalking leader Positive Peace throughout.
Despite the speed appearing genuine, Ford upped the tempo around the corner and it proved a winning move.
“The plan was to lead but when Positive Peace cleared out we just sat off,” Ford said.
“I thought we went reasonably controlled and that’s why I turned it up from the 700 and I thought his best chance was if we could get a break on the field.
“He maintained his gallop all the way and was brave when Dawn Passage challenged him. A much-deserved win for the horse.”
Ford was having his first race ride on Archedemus, who only arrived at the Hawkes stable at the start of the spring.
Co-trainer Michael Hawkes said Archedemus was one of two horses they took over for Superhorse’s Ross Williams and both have blossomed.
“Ross Williams, the owner, gave me a call and asked if we’d take this horse on and Angel Of Truth and I said yes,” Hawkes said.
“It was something we decided to do and to try to get both horses back to form.
“Angel Of Truth nearly won a Metrop and this bloke, well now he’s won a Gong so he is well and truly back to form.”
Hawkes had been satisfied with the seven-year-old’s lead up form and said Ford did a wonderful job to read the tempo of the race.
“He is the kind of horse where you’ve got to go that half a length quicker than slower and just try and get his mental attitude right,” Hawkes said.
“Probably halfway out I was worried they were going a little bit too quick. It was a very tenacious and gutsy effort and all credit to Jay and the horse, they’ve definitely come together on the right day.”
In what became a two-horse battle over the final stretch, Dawn Passage ($5 fav) loomed up to challenge Archedemus ($18) but the winner gave a strong kick, holding the Tulloch Lodge galloper at bay by a short neck.
Local Think It Over ($41) ran the race of his life another 1-1/2 lengths away third.
Beaten jockey Tim Clark said Dawn Passage tried hard but ran into a more seasoned rival.
“We got past the winner but he has just out-toughed him,” Clark said.
James McDonald and Chris Waller had a day out with four winners apiece, combining for three of them with Bigboyroy, Accountability and Matowi.
Waller was also successful with Hulk, ridden by Tommy Berry, while McDonald’s other win came aboard the Jason Coyle-trained Mo’s Crown.