JUST three weeks ago, Cessnock trainer Clayton Harmey would not have believed Kanye Crusader could win the Hunter Region Championship Final (2030 metres) and deliver him his first group 1 victory.
On Saturday night, the four-year-old Harmey had given up on and put in the series only as a "joke" shocked his opposition with an all-the-way win in the $100,000 race at Newcastle Paceway.
It was also a maiden group 1 win for teenage Morisset reinsman Jack Callaghan, who took the $17 outsider to the lead from gate four.
The Lisa McDonald-trained Master Catch, driven by Callaghan's father, Mark, made an early move three wide to sit outside Kanye Crusader.
Master Catch pushed late for the win, along with the Adam Ruggari-trained Hazelnuts, but Kanye Crusader fought back to win by a half-neck in a 1:58:0 mile rate and claim the $52,500 first prize. His record before the race was six wins in 36 starts and stakes of $33,780.
The Callaghans shared a high-five just after the finish line. Master Catch was second and Hazelnuts third, just 1.4m away. Harmey's other qualifier, Western Heir, sat behind Kanye Crusader after a slow start from gate one and finished fourth.
It was a fairy-tale win for Harmey, who admitted before the final that he gave away Kanye Crusader early in 2019 to Tamworth trainer Richie Williams.
Harmey bred the gelding but said he failed to live up to expectations early and was "a disappointment to his family".
He reluctantly put Kanye Crusader, known as Clive, back into work late last year when he returned to his stable from part-owner Brian Hamilton.
Even just before the series, he had no faith in the pacer, but he admitted on Sunday to gladly having "egg on my face".
"I just threw him in as a joke around the stables," Harmey said. "It was like, 'we'll just put Clive in it', and at the other end of it, he wins.
"It was something you couldn't plan for. Even three weeks ago if someone said he would be in the final, I would have said he couldn't win it.
"I do have to eat my words. I do have to start to like him now."
Making the effort even more special for Harmey was the fact Kanye Crusader prevailed despite breaking a front hobble just after the start.
"He only ran with three hobbles, so he free-leg paced more or less," he said.
"It was a pretty big effort to keep pacing and for Jack to keep going as well and not pull up. He said to me afterwards that he thought about pulling him up but realised the race was worth six figures and he thought 'stuff this, we're going to keep going'.
"Jack said he thought both of them went past him [in the straight] and to the credit of my fella, he's fought back.
"It was the first time after a race that he's really pulled up and was all out. He really dug deep, so he must have known because usually he doesn't try and that's why I've always disliked him. But last night he was very tired, he knew he had a big run."
In the A consolation race, Bobs Farm trainer Geoff Harding had the trifecta with Roll With Lachlan beating Rocknlachlan and Jasper Styles.
Barry Matterson-trained Babyitscold won the B consolation from Audace.