BY DAVID WHITE
IT’S always exciting when mates can celebrate success together.
That applied on Saturday when trainer Garry Lefoe Jnr and jockey Raymond Vigar combined to win the $135,000 bet365 Palmerston Sprint (1200m) at Fannie Bay.
Not only was it the feature sprint race in the Northern Territory for the year, but it was also the feature race on Day 7 of the 2017 Darwin Cup Carnival.
Whether it has been in Darwin or Alice Springs, Lefoe and Vigar have enjoyed success these past 12 months.
Good friends, they also socialise a great deal together and enjoy the occasional round of golf.
No wonder they were both grinning from ear to ear when five-year-old gelding Niccoco returned to the mounting yard after winning the Palmerston.
Twelve months ago, Lefoe packed up and made the move from Alice Springs to Darwin.
The 40-year-old has been linked with the horse racing industry for a majority of his adult life having fulfilled various roles, but once landing in the Top End he applied and secured his trainer’s licence.
He won his first race at Fannie Bay on September 24 when Aussie Bob saluted and Vigar was in the saddle.
Lefoe had made a promising start to his training career with his fair share of winners, but his reputation has now gone through the roof following Niccoco’s win.
Success in the Palmerston Sprint was Lefoe’s first “big” win, so no wonder he and Vigar couldn’t stop smiling and giggling when they caught up after the race.
Lefoe, who is also employed as a concretor when he’s not at Fannie Bay on race day or at trackwork, only secured a run in the Palmerston Sprint when Your Excellency was scratched during the week.
Niccoco was the first emergency.
After an impressive last start win, Lefoe had planned to run Niccoco on Cup Day on Monday.
However, owners of the former South Australian galloper insisted that their horse be set for the Palmerston.
It was a gamble, but after securing a start in the Palmerston it was Lefoe who made sure the horse was cherry ripe and it Vigar who delivered the goods.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would win a Palmerston Sprint after moving to Darwin,” Lefoe said.
“Niccoco has been racing well, but I was happy to give him a run on Cup Day.
“However, the owners were keen to run him in the Palmerston Sprint.
“He had ran the fastest 1200m during the Carnival and dropped 6.5kg after his last start win, so it would have been stupid on my behalf had I skipped the Palmerston.
“I wasn’t happy with the outside barrier, but Ray rode him a treat and he certainly hit the line well.
“The leaders were always going to set a fast pace early, so it was just a case of waiting for the right moment.
“Ray and I had a plan going into the race, and it’s a great feeling when everything falls into place.”
Gary Clarke’s pair Ticket To Toorak (Brendon Davis) and Captain Punch (Richie Oakford) battled for the early lead in unison with Greg Connor’s Le Commandant (Stephen Ridler) and Neil Dyer’s Gracious Prospect (Jarrod Todd).
That’s after Ticket To Toorak and Dyer’s Action Again (Paul Shiers) had played up in the barriers.
Niccoco was sitting mid-field as Captain Punch kicked away at the 500m at about the same time David Bates’ He’s Our Woody (Kayla Cross) made his move.
Turning for home, Captain Punch seemed to have a winning lead and back to back wins for Clarke in the Palmerston appeared imminent following Handsome Tycoon’s triumph last year.
It wasn’t meant to be for the Clarke stable as Niccoco took centre stage in the home straight to seal victory by a length.
It was a super effort by Captain Punch and he held on for second place – edging out the fast-finishing $3.70 favourite He’s Our Woody.
Having had 20 starts before arriving in Darwin, Niccoco had spent most of his time racing in South Australia before debuting in the Top End on July 8.
Niccoco has now had four starts at Fannie Bay for three wins – he was third in his other start – and he was certainly mixing it with the big boys on Saturday.
It was a huge step up in class, but he certainly has a promising future if yesterday’s performance is any guide.
After riding the winner of the first race on Day 1 of the Darwin Cup Carnival (Arctic Song) on July 8, the 22-year-old Vigar had endured a lean period during the racing smorgasbord at Fannie Bay.
He bounced back with victory on Kym Healy’s Aussie Jack in the Darwin Corporate Cup (1300m) on Wednesday.
Last year, Vigar rode Healy’s Pretty Blonde – the wonder mare from Strathalbyn in South Australian – to victory in the Broome Cup (2200m).
The successful partnership continued back in May when Pretty Blonde won the Alice Springs Cup (2000m).
Vigar partnered Michael Hickmott’s Canny Ballad when it won the $200,000 Carlton Mid Darwin Cup (2000m) last year, so has the magic touch returned?
In the 2017 Darwin Cup, Vigar will be on board Tayarn Halter’s six-year-old gelding Harrebs Time, who is by no means the worst horse in the Northern Territory’s biggest race.
“Everything fell into place today and I’m so happy for Garry as he and I have been friends for a long time,” Vigar said.
“It was hard to not be impressed with Niccoco’s last win, and although we had a wide gate he had no weight.
“Most jockeys and trainers don’t like the outside gate, which is fair enough, but it didn’t concern me at all.
“We sat deep for the entire race and Niccoco felt good from the time we jumped – everything just fell into place.
“When I made my move in the home straight I thought I could catch Captain Punch – I just didn’t want to rush things.”
Vigar confirmed that had Niccoco not started the Palmerston he would have ridden Lisa Whittle’s Lady Phromily from Alice Springs.
“I did have a few offers in the Palmerston and it looked like I would end up riding Lady Phromily.
“However, Garry encouraged me to wait a little longer before making a decision as there was a chance Niccoco would get a run.
“The gamble paid off and I very happy that I got to ride Niccoco in the Palmerston.
“He’s a good horse and I did fancy my chances in the race.
“I didn’t feel as though I was under any pressure – I knew what I had to do and most of all I didn’t want to over think.
“I will add that I would have been happy to ride Lady Phromily in the Palmerston.
“She’s a very handy mare and I have ridden her many times in the past.
“Lisa and I have enjoyed a number of wins together with the horse, especially in Alice Springs.”
Having finally dealing with a private matter, Vigar is adamant he has regained his focus.
He was in the mix as far as winning the Top End jockeys premiership for the 2016/17 season before the wins dried up.
Something that Felicia Bergstrand, who was leading the jockeys premiership with about to month to go, can appreciate.
Brendon Davis (32) ended up winning the jockeys premiership for the fourth straight year followed by Bergstrand (29) and Vigar (23).
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Vigar as he was the leading rider in the Alice Springs-Provincial jockeys premiership for the 2016/17 season.
He ended up with 34 winners and was the leading jockey throughout the Northern Territory for the year with 57 wins.
Vigar and Lefoe had special praise for Darwin jockey Paul Shiers, who had ridden Niccoco in his three previous starts, but couldn’t make the weight.
Shiers rode Neil Dyer’s Action Again, who won the 2013 Palmerston Sprint, with the 10-year-old gelding finishing ninth.
PAST THE POST
$135,000 bet365 Palmerston Sprint (1200m) at Fannie Bay
Day 7 – Darwin Cup Carnival
13 NICCOCO (Garry Lefoe Jnr) 5g Raymond Vigar 54.0kg $6.50
5 Captain Punch (Gary Clarke) 6g Richie Oakford 57.0kg $7.50
12 He’s Our Woody (David Bates) 5g Kayla Cross 54.0kg $3.70 fav
2 Ticket To Toorak (Gary Clarke) 7g Brendon Davis 60,5kg $8.00
11 Cadman (Merv Rumble) 5g Felicia Bergstrand 54.0kg $26
9 Gracious Prospect (Neil Dyer) 7g Jarrod Todd 55.5kg $8.50
1 Le Commandant (Greg Connor) 7g Stephen Ridler 60.5kg $9.00
10 Lady Phromily (Lisa Whittle) 7m Carl Spry 55.0kg $81
7 Action Again (Neil Dyer) 10g Paul Shiers 56.5kg $51
8 Boomwaa (Gary Clarke) 6g Jason Lyon 55.5kg $5.00
6 Super Bryan (Will Savage) 5g Barry Huppatz 57.0 $51
Scr: 3 King’s Pardon, 4 Your Excellency, 14 Jackanory
Margins: Length x Neck
Last 600m: 35.71
2016/17 Darwin Cup Carnival Bonus (Day 7)
8 Gary Clarke
6 Neil Dyer
4 Philip Cole
3 Garry Lefoe Jnr, Sheila Arnold, Dick Leech, Kerry Petrick
2 Danny Penna, David Bates, Richard Laming, Greg Connor, Michael Hickmott, Kym Healy
8 Brendon Davis
7 Jarrod Todd, Jason Lyon
6 Paul Shiers
5 Stephen Ridler
4 Raymond Vigar
3 Kayla Cross, Paul Denton