Gary Harley – Wrap – 08.03.24

Kris Lees’ dominance of his hometown Group 3 Horsepower Newcastle Stakes (1400m) in recent years continued Friday when the Queensland owned Rustic Steel led all the way to win the Newcastle Jockey Club’s first group race of the year. With the boom Victorian Jimmysstar a raging $1.85 favourite, Rustic Steel who was resuming after a three-month break was a drifting $12 chance – the shortest price of Lees’ three starters.

Sydney jockey Sam Clipperton had ridden the son of Deep Field in his three starts before a spell, and he had travelled to the Central Coast and Newcastle recently to ride the six-year-old in barrier trials. Clipperton, when trapped wide from a tricky barrier, had no hesitation in allowing Rustic Steel to slide to a clear lead soon after the start and the gelding was never challenged.

When the judge called a halt Rustic Steel’s winning margin was 3.21 lengths from Scone trained Sharp Shock ($201), with Taree galloper Imatruestar ($101) third. The TAB trifecta returned a dividend of $33,042.50. Rustic Steel has been a great money-spinner for Queensland owners Ron and Judy Wanless, winning nine of his twenty-one starts for prize money of just under $2 million. He has won a Big Dance, Scone Cup and Gosford’s “The Coast”. For Lees it was his fifth Newcastle Stakes (formerly Newcastle Newmarket) in six years.

“On paper it didn’t look like a really fast race. He has led before and won “The Coast” dominating on speed. When he got across and was able to control the race and show a good turn of foot at the top of the straight, he was always going to take some running down. He only had a short spell after a pretty good preparation last time in without winning. Rustic Steel raced a little flat in The Ingham in early December, so I put him away for a short spell. I expected him to run well on Friday, but it looked a competitive race. The Newcastle Stakes is a good race in its own right, and it is a good lead up to better races. It is always pleasing to win a feature race at home” Lees said.

The other Newcastle trainer to enjoy success on Friday was Mark Minervini who prepared track specialist Super to win the final event, the Surfest Women’s Pro Midway Benchmark 64 Handicap (1400m). With Aaron Bullock aboard, Super trailed the leader Gago to the top of the straight where he took the lead and easily held off the challengers late. Super has won seven races at Newcastle, and his win took his prizemoney to more than $300,000.

Bullock rode a double on the day steering Greg Hickman’s stayer Insider Trader to victory in the Kam-Cool Refrigeration Benchmark 64 Handicap (2300m). Bullock finished the meeting with 94 winners for the season.

Michael Freedman trained a double at the meeting with Last Command in the Paul Perry 2yo Handicap (1300m) and Edited By in the New Era Technology Maiden Handicap (1400m).