RACING NSW MAGAZINE
THE 4TH HUNTER APPROACHES
The $1 Million The Hunter race day is approaching, and with Covid restrictions easing NJC officials given fine weather are expecting the largest crowd in the four-year history of the richest days racing in Newcastle each year. The major function areas, and there are plenty of them were quickly booked out when bookings opened in August.
The $1 Million The Hunter, a 1300m Quality Handicap will be run on Saturday November 12 and will be supported by three other feature races. The $300,000 The Beauford, an Open Handicap over 2300m was first run in 2021 and it is the main support race. The time honoured NJC 3yo Spring Stakes is a Group 3 event over 1600m with prizemoney of $200,000. The Max Lees Classic (900m) for two-year-old’s is another feature, worth $150,000.
There are many that believe the Max Lees Classic, because of its history should be a Black Type event. In the first year of the Classic in 2017 Jonker won the race, and he went on to win the Group 1 Manikato and prizemoney worth $2,075,660. Strasbourg won in 2018 and he went to Eagle Farm and won the Group 2 Sires Produce. Russian Conquest won last years running of the Classic before an unlucky second in the Gold Coast Magic Millions.
New Zealand Bloodstock are sponsoring eight of the ten races on The Hunter Day. Mike Kneebone from NZ Bloodstock has said that his company will name one of the eight races in honour of the late, great Australian golfer and commentator Jack Newton, who passed away earlier this year. Newton, a legendary Novocastrian bred and raced thoroughbreds and pacers with his family.
The annual Westpac Rescue Helicopter Luncheon on the eve of The Hunter race day will be held at the Newcastle Racecourse. Vinery Stud boss Peter Orton will be one of the guest speakers, supported by the Australian Bloodstock founders Luke Murrell and Jamie Lovett. The Westpac Rescue Helicopter transported Leah Kilner and Elissa Meredith to the respective hospitals following their falls at recent race meetings.
THE LEGEND RETURNS
Retired champion jockey Robert Thompson has been invited by the NJC to attend Jungle Juice Cup Day and officiate at the post-race presentation at the Newcastle Racecourse on October 15. The Jungle Juice Cup has had a prizemoney boost to $50,000 and trainers should check eligibility for the Cup. The Cup will be run over 1350m and is restricted to horses who between October 10, 2021 and October 9, 2022 have started in a minimum of four races in Australia of provincial and/or country status as recognised by Racing NSW.
Thompson has been recognised over the years as the “King of the Jungle Juice Cup”, for the success he enjoyed in the iconic race. The Jungle Juice Cup was the highest profile race held each year in the winter at Cessnock before the closure of the Wine Country track. Cessnock is “RT’s” hometown, and he rode the Jungle Juice Cup winner eleven times.
Thompson rode 4447 winners during an amazing career, easily the most winners by any Australian jockey in history. He always claimed Newcastle was his favourite track, and during a meeting in November 1990 rode an astonishing six winners.
NJC Chief Executive Duane Dowell said it was important to hold such an iconic race on a prominent Saturday.
“The Jungle Juice Cup Day has a colourful past and a reputation for fun, so we feel it fits perfectly on Everest Day”. Dowell said.
POLYTRACK UP AND RUNNING
The Newcastle Racecourse’s new $3 Million Polytrack, which was co-funded by Racing NSW and the NJC is up and running, receiving rave reviews from local trainers. Trackwork commenced on the newly laid surface in late August. NJC Chief Executive Duane Dowell said the club is keen to take advantage of the new resource for trials which have been difficult to schedule due to record rainfall in recent months.
“Despite the rain the installation of the Polytrack was completed on time. We will be exploring the possibility of holding barrier trials on it as well, which will alleviate a big backlog of trials in the area. We will consult with jockeys and trainers concerning the trials. It is a nine-metre-wide track, which will allow us to run five and six horse trials” Dowell said.
Leading trainer Kris Lees has been very impressed by the new Polytrack. “Very happy with it, and if Newcastle is not the best training facility in the state it is close to it now. To be honest that was not the case before the Polytrack. Horses don’t miss work if there is no grass” Lees said.
THREE FAVOURITES RETIRE
The Lees stable has said goodbye to three of its favourite horses – Mugatoo, Wandabaa and Enchanted Heart. Mugatoo has retired, while Wandabaa and Enchanted Heart are off to stud.
Eight-year-old European import Mugatoo is very special because he was Kris Lees’ first Newcastle Cup winner in 2020. He won his first Australian start at Randwick in 2020, with the gelding finishing his racing career having had 22 starts for nine wins and three placings – earning $3,401,417 in prizemoney along the way. In addition to his Newcastle Cup win, Mugatoo won the $5 Million Moonee Valley All-Star Mile, Canberra Cup, Rosehill Premiers Cup, and the Winter Challenge. Lees was full of praise for his stayer “He did not win a Group 1, but he wasn’t far off my best horses. Mugatoo gave me my Newcastle Cup win and he was beaten a nose in the Metropolitan, won the All-Star Mile and won his first three starts in Australia. He was also very unlucky in a Cox Plate” Lees said.
The underrated Wandabaa was sold for $800,000 at the Digital August Boutique Sale on August 31. She had 38 starts for eight wins and sixteen placings, amassing prizemoney of $940,000. Wandabaa’s best win was in the Newcastle Newmarket in March, and she was runner-up in the 2021 $1 Million The Hunter. The mare will go to stud in Victoria. Lees said Wandabaa was a great money spinner for the Australian Bloodstock Syndicate.
“She was a tough mare and could handle all going. She was bought originally for $36,000 then won $940,000 on the track and now sells for $800,000 – outstanding”.
Enchanted Heart was sold for $295,000 at the Inglis sale in August. The mare, purchased for $80,000 as a yearling won eight races and $403,555 on the track, with her best win being the Takeover Target at Gosford.
COUP FOR LEES
International racing identity Andrew Le Jeune has joined the Lees Racing team in the role of Client Relations and Communications Manager. Le Jene worked for Sky Racing in Sydney for eleven years, and he has spent the past six years as the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s television presenter and anchor. He returned to Australia in July to join his wife Alex, and children Monty (12) and Margot (7) in their home at Lorn in the Maitland region.
“I enjoyed Hong Kong, but it was time to come home, and this new opportunity came up. Newcastle will be a nice change of pace. Kris has built a very successful business and has a big team in work. I am keen to help him build further on that success” Le Jeune said.
In announcing the appointment Lees said he welcomed Le Jeune to the team and is confident of a successful association. “Andrew comes to us with experience in many facets of the racing industry and I have no doubt he will be an outstanding acquisition for us” Lees said.
Le Jeune worked at Lindsay Park before joining Sky Racing. His children attend the Grammar school at East Maitland, as do the children of Lizzie Jelfs and Matthew Smith.