Tolga Kumova has fled Melbourne to wait out the seven-day COVID lockdown at his country Victoria polo farm.

Swapping the bleak streets of the city for green rolling hills and the warmth of a country log fire hasn’t meant business has stopped for the ever-bustling Kumova.

He has just cut a $3.5 million cheque to exercise in-the-money options in Aston Minerals (ASX:ASO), the $186m (19.5c) ASX explorer with big-time gold ambitions in Ontario, Canada.

Kumova is Aston’s executive chairman, with the option exercise increasing his stake in the company to 11.07% from 9.93%.

It stands as a vote of confidence by Kumova in Aston’s prospects, as does the $2m options exercise by Aston’s corporate director, Rob Jewson, increasing his stake from 6.22% to 7.74%.

All-up, Aston has pulled in $9.2m from directors and others exercising options, increasing its cash kitty to $14.5m.

It means Aston is fully funded for a massive 75,000 metre drilling program at its Edleston gold project where a large low grade gold position, juiced up by super high-grade veins, is unfolding under Aston ownership of the original 2012 discovery.

Edleston sits on the western extension of the Cadillac-Larder Lake fault zone, a regional structure with a long production history of 75m ounces of gold.

While its big time gold potential remains the focus, Aston recently gave a clue that it was adding a regional sulphide nickel leg to its story.

The clue came in the options exercise announcement, and simply said that a third drilling rig would be mobilised within the two months to step up gold resource definition/exploration drilling, as well as testing “nickel sulphide targets to the south-east of Edleston.’’

Tucked up under a sheepskin in front of the log fire, Kumova was not his usual talkative self when Garimpeiro asked him about the new nickel leg for Aston, saying the company would say more at a later stage.

But it is known that Canadian nickel miner Falconbridge – acquired by Xstrata in 2006, with Xstrata later acquired by Glencore – drilled for nickel in the area, with the results worth following up in a 2021 context.

That context is the emergence of nickel as a key battery material for the electric vehicle and the storage of renewable energy revolution, in addition to GDP-plus growth in nickel’s traditional stainless steel market.


Aston Minerals share price today:

Kumova is not the only Australian mining identity that has nickel in Ontario in his sights, remembering that the province is home to one of the world’s great nickel camps at Sudbury, with Aston’s Edleston sitting between Sudbury to the south, and the Timmins gold camp to the north.

The other identity is no less than Fortescue chairman Andrew Forrest, Australia’s second richest person behind Gina Rinehart.

He has Canada’s Noront Resources in his sights, with his privately owned Tattarang bidding C31.5c or $C133m million for the company. It is loose change for Dr Forrest given his personal wealth stands at more than $25 billion.

Noront owns the large scale Eagle’s Nest nickel-copper-PGE project in Ontario’s James Bay lowlands.

While Noront welcomed Tattarang moving on to its share register in December as a cornerstone investor, it is not happy with the takeover bid, even though it was pitched at a whopping 91% premium to Noront’s pre-bid market price of C16.5c.

To strengthen its takeover defences against the unsolicited bid, Noront has since announced a shareholder rights plan designed as a “poison pill’’ to hostile takeover bids and the “creeping’’ acquisition of shares leading to a change of control.

Even so, the Canadian market has left Noront shares at a discount to the proposed Tattarang bid. The stock last traded at C26.2c.