The Hunter Race Day
There were smiles all round at the Newcastle Jockey Club and Racing NSW given the success the TAB Hunter Race Day at Newcastle on November 14.
The stunning eight-figure TAB turnover was up by over 30% year-on-year (Fixed & Para Mutual) and added to massive Corporate wagering activity on the day, which had administrators licking their lips in the wash up after the big event. With restrictions still in place due to the pandemic, a ticket to ‘The Hunter’ was the hottest in town. It was a sell-out weeks prior and an especially pleasing factor, the younger generations came out in droves to support the day.
The deadline for the December edition of this magazine had well and truly passed come The Hunter race day but Brad Gray penned a story on the $1Million race which was included on Sweet Deal, who won The Hunter for John Thompson and Nash Rawiller. The two other feature races, the time-honoured Group 3 New Zealand Bloodstock NJC Spring Stakes (1600m) and the fourth edition of the Sage Painting Max Lees 2YO Classic (900m) were chockful of quality.
New Zealand Bloodstock’s Mike Kneebone was trackside to see the John Singleton bred colt The Elanora, trained by Chris Waller and ridden by Tommy Berry, take out their NZB Spring Stakes. The Eleanora, named after one of Singletons Central Coast hotels, was backed from $12 into $7. He toughed it out with the Kiwi bred High Supremacy and he out-stayed the latter to win by half a length.
The minor placegetter Ellsberg, part owned by NJC member and Sponsor Ian Burford had no luck, missing the start. It was stated following the race that The Elenora would head to Brisbane for the Grand Prix. The two placegetters are raw and will improve given thee experience, so connections can look forward to the Autumn.
The chatter amongst owners, trainers and jockeys is that the Two-Year-Old Max Lees Classic will continue to build in stature into a major Spring target race for juveniles. The $125,000 race is perfectly placed on the calendar as a lead-up race to the Inglis Nursery at Randwick in December and the Gold Coast Magic Millions in early January. The 900m short course being an ideal option for first starters. Godolphin and James Cummings sent their well-educated filly Sliders to Newcastle for the 2020 edition, sponsored once again by Sage Painting, and she didn’t let the team down.
She was in the leading group all the way and won impressively. Sliders franked the form with a close second at Rosehill two weeks later, while Baby Wong a close fourth was an unlucky second at Doomben next star.
The race already his history, with Jonker saluting in the 2017 ‘Max Lees’ and then winning the $200,000 Wyong Magic Millions, before being knocked down when second favourite in a rough ‘n’ tumble’ running of the Gold Coast Magic Millions. Jonker recently broke the Doomben 1200 metre track record in winning the Listed Keith Noud Quality in November after a move to Tony Gollan’s stable, taking his career earnings to over the $600,000 mark.
Strasbourg won the 2018 Max Lees Classic and went on to impressively win the Group 2 Sires Produce at Eagle Farm before heading to stud at Rosemont.
Bullocks Near Miss
Aaron Bullock received his biggest pay day when runner up on Special Reward in the $1M TAB Hunter. The Singleton boy’s previous career highlight was aboard Jonker when he won the $200,000 Magic Millions in December 2017.
First prize at Wyong was $116,000 while the runner up prize in the Hunter was $190,000.
Special Reward raced on the speed and looked home in the straight before being overhauled by the winner Sweet Deal. Bullock was grateful that Kris Lees and Australian Bloodstock gave him the opportunity to ride in a $1Million race. “If the race was in Sydney, I probably don’t get this opportunity but being on my home track and a horse of Kris’ I got the ride and I am so grateful. When a horse gives a kick like that other horses don’t usually come past you. Full credit to Sweet Deal. I ride Special Reward in all his work and I always planned to let him roll. He was super today,” Bullock said.
Like Father Like Son
Nineteen-year-old Dylan Gibbons, Newcastle’s newest apprentice, has made a flying start to his riding career and has already caught the eye of leading trainers, including the master of apprentices Ron Quinton. Gibbons is apprenticed to Newcastle premier trainer Kris Lees and it was at the trainer’s stables that he first sat on a thoroughbred around Christmas 2017.
The teenager is of course the son of three-time Newcastle Premiership and reigning NSW Premiership-winning jockey Andrew Gibbons. Gibbons junior had his first ride on July 28 and since the current season commenced in August, he has ridden 20 winners from 121 mounts to December 1 and outridden his three-kilogram claim. A hard-working young man Gibbons works a thirteen day fortnight at the Lees establishment and we caught up with him in late November.
“I couldn’t have wished for a better start to my riding career. Everyone has been so helpful and I always wanted to be a jockey and I am loving it. My boss Kris Lees has been great and of course I talk a lot with dad – he is a great mentor.
Danny Greer, an ex-steward, works for Kris and he books my rides. To ride my first provincial winner at my first provincial ride for Mr Quinton at Gosford on October 29 was a huge thrill. To date I have ridden two doubles at Scone and Tamworth and I finished second behind dad in the Lismore Cup,” Gibbons said.
Quinton was full of praise for the apprentice following the Gosford win. “Dylan’s father Andrew rode a winner for me in his first ride for my stable years ago and I have been keeping an eye on Dylan. He rides well and rode the mare perfectly,” Quinton said. Ironically, Andrew was suspended in his first ride for Quinton and likewise Dylan on Hibiscus Lady.
Vale John McDermott
Legendary Newcastle race caller John McDermott passed away in November. A champion ‘bloke’ and mentor, McDermott was suffering from bone cancer and was 75 years of age at the time of his death. McDermott, who lived with his wife Susan ten minutes from the Newcastle Racecourse at Lambton, called all three codes of racing on TV, radio and on course in a career spanning 56 years.
‘Macca’ as he was affectionately known, was the on-course and Sky Racing caller at Broadmeadow for more than twenty years. He is remembered in the industry as a mentor to other broadcasters including Greg Radley, Phil Roberts, Tim Newbold and Gary Harley.
Maccas funeral service was held at the Newcastle Racecourse and Greg Radley along with his two nieces paid tribute to the great man. In a fine gesture, Newcastle Jockey Club Chief Executive Matt Benson offered Susan McDermott a table of ten for the family at the Legends raceday on December 1. The offer was readily accepted and much appreciated.