Newcastle jockey Darryl ‘Digger’ McLellan rode his first winner in New South Wales since 2011 when he steered Oakfield General to victory in the 1500 metre Hungerford Hill Wines Class 1 at the NJC’s race meeting on Thursday.
‘Digger’ reminded racegoers of his glory days when he placed the $8 chance Oakfield General in the box seat behind the leader from the start before drawing the gelding through a gap at the 200-metre mark. The winner is raced by NJC sponsor and Port Stephens breeder Bruce Mackenzie and is trained at Wyong by Damian Lane.
McLellan now 47 gave race riding away in 2011 after a very successful career in which he rode 1390 winners. He was injured in a race fall on Boxing Day in 2011. Newcastle was his favourite track and he rode 187 winners on his home track. Three years back he applied to racing NSW for a licence to ride again but he was knocked back on three occasions. However, he secured a licence to ride in Queensland where he rode all this year until Racing NSW gave him the go ahead to make a comeback in New South Wales.
His first day back riding was at Taree on July 20, but he had not ridden a winner in 30 odd rides until yesterday. McLellan won races on two champions in his heyday. He won the Group 1 Warwick Stakes in 2001 on Lonhro and six years earlier he rode the Melbourne Cup winner Saintly to win a Class 1 Handicap at Newcastle. McLellan has been riding trackwork for Newcastle trainers and is as keen as ever.
Kris Lees landed a double at the meeting and he is off to a flying start in the first sixteen days of the new racing season. He has already trained seven winners and his two winners on Thursday were ultra-impressive four-year-old mare Progression with James McDonald aboard, ran down speedster Venture Capital to win the 900 metre Sharp Electronics Group Class 1 Handicap.
Lees classy filly Sunreel in the Australian Bloodstock colours demolished a 1500-metre Class 1 field in the Nationwide Super Handicap. The daughter of former super stayer Dundeel, raced away in the straight to win by 4 ¾ lengths. It was a copy book ride on the winner by stable rider Andrew Gibbons.
McDonald’s second winner of the day was the Chris Waller trained mare Scratches. Bred and part owned by Gerry Harvey, Scratches has won two of her past three starts and McDonald said after the race that the four-year-old is capable of winning in mid-week city class. Ryan Tredway who owns the carpet franchise in the Maitland Harvey Norman store also shares in the ownership of Scratches.
The Gerald Ryan trained Happy Bubbles, was most impressive in a debut win in the 900 metre Australian Bloodstock Maiden. The gelding went through a gap in the home straight before racing clear to win by 1 ¾ lengths.