David White

The Dick Leech-trained Early Crow ($4.40) secured a start in Saturday’s $135,000 Palmerston Sprint (1200m) with victory at Fannie Bay on the weekend.

To make the NT’s biggest race for the sprinters, the four-year-old gelding had to win the $32,000 Flying Sprint (1100m) on Day 5 of the Darwin Cup Carnival.

The son of Kuroshio was 18th in the order of entry for the Palmerston with a rating of 71 and looked like missing the 12 horse field, which accommodates three emergencies, but fears were allayed on Saturday.

Early Crow, who made his NT debut for Leech last October when fourth over 1000m (Class 2) at Fannie Bay, has had eight starts in the Top End for two wins and only once has he finished outside the top four.

Leech, a first time winner of the Alice Springs and Provincial trainer’s premiership, took the gelding to the Red Centre for the Alice Cup Carnival in April and in five starts he had three wins before finishing eighth in the $100,000 Pioneer Sprint (1200m).

Facing five others in the Flying Sprint, Early Crow (Aaron Sweeney) sat comfortably on the rails in third place before heading to the middle of the track in the home straight to seal victory by 3.73 lengths from Gary Clarke’s $8 hope Rising Sphere (Paul Denton) and Tayarn Halter’s $16 chance City Regal (Paul Shiers), a recent arrival from WA.

Clarke’s $1.70 favourite Change Is Coming (Jarrod Todd), who won by 10.5 lengths first up in Darwin over 1000m (0-58) a fortnight ago, was outclassed and finished fourth.

Leech, a long-time NT trainer, has already won the Palmerston when Lucid Reflection prevailed in 2010.

Write Your Name, winner of the 2022 Alice Springs Cup (2000m), will represent the stable in the $200,000 Darwin Cup (2050m) next Monday – a race Leech won in 2008 when Club Liquid saluted by 13 lengths over 2000m.

Trainer Jason Manning, preparing the favourite Noir De Rue for the Darwin Cup, picked up a handy win on Saturday when Arch Of Titus (Vanessa Arnott), starting at $7, won the $40,000 feature for the three-year-old sprinters over 1200m (BM68).

It was a welcome return to form for Arch Of Titus, formerly of NSW, who finished second over 1300m (BM66) in his first Top End start against his own group behind NT Guineas winner Century Fox in June before trailing Tubthumper in seventh place in the Darwin Guineas (1600m) on July 8.

Arch Of Titus hit the front leaving the back straight and at one stage led by three lengths before overcoming Clarke’s $1.90 favourite Athletica (Todd) – making its NT debut – by 1.78 lengths with Heather Lehmann’s $6 fancy Lucky Fortuna (Emma Lines) third.

Clarke, the champion Top End and Country trainer for the 11th straight year, and jockey Adam Nicholls farewelled the 2022/23 season with winning doubles.

The Clarke pairing of Hard To Excel ($1.90 fav) and Starspangledancer ($8) got to an early lead and were never headed before prevailing by 4.3 lengths over 1000m (0-66) and by four lengths in an 1100m maiden, respectively.

For Hard To Excel, it was three straight wins and victory allowed Todd to celebrate his fourth straight Top End and Country jockey’s title in style –  Halter’s stablemates Pocket Pistol (Arnott, $18) and Don’t Wait (Shiers, $4.40) filled the minor placings.

Starspangeldancer (Nicholls), unplaced in his first two Fannie Bay starts before a last start third, burst out of the gates and was in front at the 800m before eventually overcoming $20 contenders Lord Fenrir (Lines), from the Phil Cole yard, and Gunshot Glitter (Denton), from the Ella Clarke stable.

It was a belated birthday present for South Australian trainer John Peacock when $4.40 favourite Super Famous (Nicholls), who settled behind the leader Patriotic King ($7) in second place exiting the back straight, hit the front with 200m to go before sealing victory over 1200m (0-58).

Super Famous, who has made a serious impact in Darwin and Alice Springs for the past two years, was having his sixth Fannie Bay start since May, but he proved too good for Cole’s fast-finishing Ye Hella (Lines, $6.50) and Gary Clarke’s Patriotic King (Todd).

After a first up third at Fannie Bay over 1100m (0-66) on July 19 with Victorian trainer Mark Pegus in the saddle, Komachi (Casey Hunter), who kick-started its career in the UK, stepped up to the 1600m (0-70) and posted a narrow win.

Komachi ($3.90) missed the start until joining Gary Clarke’s $3 favourite Loveplanet (Todd) out in front and settling in second place, but in general very little separated all five runners before Loveplanet skipped away at the 300m.

With 100m to go, Komachi hit the front to seal the deal from Neil Dyer’s $3.10 runner Hettinger (Sweeney), who seemed to lose momentum at the 600m, and Loveplanet with 0.38 lengths splitting the trio at the finish.