Markwell closer to Kembla title

HORSE RACING

Gwenda Markwell's one-two combination floored punters - and more than likely her premiership chasers - as she soared closer to yet another Kembla Grange title on Saturday.

The region's dominant trainer caught many off guard with an improbable double on her home track courtesy of three-year-old maidens Midnight Ride ($41) and Fascinating ($31), the latter a potential Australian Oaks bolter.

But should we be surprised as she chases a 12th straight crown?

Markwell has made a habit out of finding winners when punters least expect it and even with six months to run in the season she looks almost impregnable in premiership terms.

Her buffer in the race to be crowned Kembla's premier trainer stands at four from Kerry Parker, while Sydney's big three in Peter Snowden, Gai Waterhouse and Chris Waller have significant ground to make up in the champion trainer section.

Snowden's bid is likely to stall in May when he hands over the reins at Darley to John O'Shea.

And Markwell got one over the global breeding empire early when apprentice Maddison Wright drove Midnight Ride past prohibitive favourite Castigate ($1.60) in the Maiden Plate (1000m).

Midnight Ride had only been seen once at the trials when finishing nine lengths from Carbonite, but collared Castigate inside the final 50 metres to win by 1½ lengths.

Wright is set to join Markwell's team permanently next month from John Law's Moruya base.

"She's quite game and she seems to be a competent rider and where she is I don't think she's getting very many rides in morning trackwork, but when she's with us she'll be flat out all morning," Markwell's racing manager Ross McConville said.

"Her fitness level and her skills should improve markedly."

Midnight Ride's owners, excavators Noel and Peter Bitz, paid just $600 for a service fee to unfashionable stallion Dubai's Choice and they were rewarded handsomely after the gelding's debut.

Bede Murray's Red Sapphire was sensationally backed from $10 into $4.20, but didn't fire a shot and never passed a runner.

Markwell's Fascinating had no such problem in the Maiden Plate (1600m), defying a similarly spectacular plunge on stablemate Turanor to swoop late.

Turanor opened at $41 and was wound into $7.50 before drifting late, but couldn't see off the challenge of Fascinating, which fought off Monticello ($17) with Turanor winding up in fourth.

"It could even be a chance of going to the Australian Oaks," McConville said. "Gwenda's very impressed with it and thinks it's probably the best filly she's got in the stable."

Markwell wasn't the only trainer to achieve a winning double at Kembla, with Snowden scoring race-to-race victories via Copy ($5) and Rapid ($3.60 fav).

Kembla's jockey premiership leader Mitchell Bell quickly wiped away the disappointment of Castigate's defeat to charge home on Copy, before Chris O'Brien found an inside run on Rapid in the Maiden Handicap (1400m).

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