IT has taken him almost 20 years, so Bernie Hewitt could not have been happier on Saturday night when winning the Bathurst Gold Crown final for the first time in his career.
The Georges Plains trainer-driver has long supported the carnival and frequently had runners contest the Gold Crown series for two-year-old colts and geldings.
He had come close to glory – in 2004 getting within a short half head of taking out the Group 1 feature – yet success continued to elude him.
But on Saturday night, aboard $1.90 favourite College Chapel, the win which Hewitt had so long sought was finally delivered.
The Mach Three x Meljoy colt won the early speed battle to take the lead at the Bathurst Paceway and once in front did not surrender.
“It’s bloody good,” Hewitt, who drew loud cheers from spectators said.
“It’s a hell of a thrill to win this race after I’ve been trying for the best part of a couple of decades.”
College Chapel went into the final on the back of three consecutive wins and as he was set to go from the four gate, it was no surprise to see him hold favouritism.
He flew out to cover the first quarter of the last mile in 26.4 seconds, that turn of foot seeing him lead by a length on the bell.
College Chapel then peeled off a 27.9 split down the back straight, but the question was, had the favourite gone too hard too soon?
College Chapel answered that question as he gave all the way down the home straight, holding off Abouttime ($7.20, Nathan Jack) by 1¾m while Animal ($4.40, Amanda Turnbull) claimed third.
The winning mile rate – a 1:54.5 – was a two-year-old track record, though Hewitt admitted the early speed had him nervous.
“I thought he was going to fight on good, but he went suicidal early, he got too keen out of the gate and he actually struck the wheel a bit with his back legs which fired him up more,” Hewitt said.
“So we were going quick early and often that can bring them undone at the end of the race. So it was a fair effort to get home after doing that much work.
“I suppose it’s a bit surreal in a way, but I knew it was a goal we could achieve with that horse. But it still all had to work out right and you never know how it’s going to work out in a two-year-old final.
“It worked out all right in the end, but we had to do it tough early and he had to hold them off at the other end. The other horse had the cold sit on him, on his back.”
Just as the win triggered scenes of jubilation for the Hewitt family, it was a moment Gulgong owner-breeders Gary and Marg Meredith relished as well.
While Gary was not track side due to a knee injury, his wife offered him praise as well as the winning colt and trainer-driver.
“I really should say it should be my husband Gary here, he hurt his knee would you believe of all things, but I bet he’s at home in the lounge room doing toe-tapping now,” she said.
“I think there’s three stars shining tonight, one is obviously on Bernie Hewitt and his family.
“Second on College Chapel … my husband has just been saying how good he is since the day he was born like a lot of people do, however, he really is good.
“Then, the third is on Gary my husband, he’s passionate, he’s very good at breeding and this is for him.”
The other Bathurst hopefuls in the final placed sixth (Steve Turnbull, Smooth Cash), seventh (Uncle Jord, Chris Frisby) and ninth (Hit The Track, Josh Turnbull).