Trainer Kris Lees labels Newcastle ‘the best track in the state’ ahead of Rustic Steel’s tilt at The Hunter

Picture: Mark Evans / Getty Images

Proud Novocastrian Kris Lees has declared Newcastle the state’s best track as he prepares to defend home turf with Rustic Steel in Saturday’s $1m The Hunter (1300m).

Lees, a multiple premiership and Group 1 winning trainer, is preparing to unleash another strong team on the biggest day of the season at his home course.

With Rustic Steel the headline act in The Hunter, Lees will also have untapped filly Kind Words in the Group 3 Spring Stakes (1600m) while Zoe’s Promise (race four), Tavi Time (race nine), Rogue Bear (race nine) and Acquitted (race 10) are all engaged.

Lees is keen to make his presence felt on a happy hunting ground for his stable where he has chalked up 396 winners – the most of any venue.

“I think it is the best track in the state,” Lees said. “It’s only five or six years old and cost a few million so for that reason but it races extremely fair and can handle huge amount of rain. “You occasionally get the odd bias but that’s rail placements too. “It’s good that they are utilising it for a Saturday meeting and I think it’s the right time to do it off the end of the spring. “It shows with depth of the fields, it gets better every year.”

Lees is yet to win The Hunter but has had several near misses already in the race.

Wandabaa finished second in the race behind Lost And Running in 2021, Special Reward was runner-up a year earlier behind Sweet Deal while Tactical Advantage found one better in the first edition against Savatiano.

Rustic Steel is a $16 chance to snare Lees an elusive Hunter victory in 2023.

The Deep Field gelding had an extended stint on the sidelines due to bone bruising but returned in terrific order with a fast-finishing seventh in the Group 3 Sydney Stakes last month.

“I think Rustic Steel had the best sectionals of the race,” Lees said.

“He was very good. Unfortunately the gate probably dictates for him and he will have to be ridden similar again, which makes it very hard.

“There is not a lot of tempo but a big field and he should get a nice enough set up but it is a little concerning how far off them he will be.”

Sam Clipperton rides Rustic Steel and Lees plans to target the Group 3 Festival Stakes and Group 2 The Ingham with Rustic Steel next month.

Stablemates Spangler and Acquitted had also been nominated for The Hunter but Lees elected to go to different races instead.

“Spangler will go to The Gong, which was probably always the plan and we nominated in case they came up a bit lighter than expected and Acquitted will go to the other race last on the card,” Lees said.

“Acquitted can react well fresh.”

Lees’ other feature runner Kind Words steps up to the Mile after getting her maiden out of the way with a strong effort over 1400m at Hawkesbury last time.

She is a $13 chance in the Spring Stakes.

“She was good the other day and we’ve always thought of her as a stakes filly, whether that is this preparation or next preparation,” Lees said. “She will acquit herself well from the good draw.”

Lees also confirmed Rogue Bear is a chance to run in Sunday’s Taree Cup instead of at Newcastle on Saturday.

Scratching comes Far Too Easy

Far Too Easy was an unfortunate eleventh hour scratching from the $1m The Hunter on Friday afternoon after sustaining a head injury while exercising on the horse walker.

Trainer David McColm reported to Racing NSW Stewards that his horse would need to be scratched after suffering a laceration to his forehead in the untimely incident.

Far Too Easy was assessed by a vet, which determined it was necessary for the horse to be medicated to treat the wound.

Far Too Easy was an equal $6 second elect with TAB when she was removed from betting on Friday afternoon.

It’s a big Yes for Max Lees Classic

The aptly named Triple Yes could provide the most fitting of debut winners for an Everest winning sire when she hunts Saturday’s NZB Airfreight Max Lees 2YO Classic (900m) at Newcastle.

Triple Yes is part of the first two-year-old crop of 2019 The Everest winner Yes Yes Yes, which has only had a handful of starters but is yet to sire a winner.

She is one of two of his progeny in the two-year-old feature with Nymphadora also lining up.

Trainer Anthony Cummings has only given Triple Yes one trial in the lead up to her debut and the filly showed some promise to finish a close second in an 800m heat at Hawkesbury on Monday.

“It was a good trial,” Cummings said.

“She obviously had a bit to learn and she has come out of it OK.

“She has drawn alright so we thought why not? She has shown us enough to say it’s worthwhile taking her to the races.”

Clipperton will partner Triple Yes ($13) from a perfect draw in barrier five.

Cummings doesn’t expect his filly to lead from the draw but hopes she can land in a prominent spot in running and launch her assault late.

“There is a bit of work to be done to see which runner might have the gate speed but you can imagine there is going to be a couple labelled urgent,” he said.

“Gai’s invariably are so we might be able to find a position behind them like she did in the trials, then work out way up to them and hopefully she is strong enough.”

Cummings will get both of his runners out of the way early on the card, with stablemate Stray poised to line up in the Karaka 2024 Midway Benchmark 72 Handicap (1600m).

The daughter of Thunder Fantasy only beat one runner home in her first two starts this preparation before producing an improved effort to finish third over 1550m at Randwick Kensington on November 1.

“It was a much better run last time, so she is going fine,” Cummings said.

“I would expect an improved performance off her last start.”

Chad Schofield rides Stray ($16).


Trainer Anthony Cummings. Picture: Mark Evans / Getty Images

Perfect surface predicted for Newcastle

Thursday night rain has the Newcastle Jockey Club confident The Hunter day track will ‘play perfect’ for runners on the massive feature meeting.

The Newcastle track had 10mm of rain on Thursday night and a further 3mm on Friday morning with clearer conditions throughout much of Friday.

It was rated a Good 4 on Friday with Newcastle Jockey Club General Manager of Racecourse and Facilities Chris Nation giving an update on the conditions via the club’s social media.

“I hope that’s the end of it (the rain) because if it is this track will play perfect,” he said.

“It’s gave it the drink that I probably would have gave it and it will be nice just to get some sun on it.

“It should race really well with that natural rain in it.”

Winds of 30km/h from the east are forecast late in the day on Saturday, which would blow in riders faces down the back straight.

O’Hara facing six weeks on sidelines

Sydney jockey Kathy O’Hara looks set to be sidelined until around the New Year due to a foot injury.

O’Hara revealed on Friday that she has sustained multiple lisfranc fractures in her right foot while also suffering from soft tissue damage to the same region.

While she won’t require surgery, the Group 1 winning rider is expected to spend the next six weeks on the sidelines.

She has not ridden since Ladies Day at Hawkesbury last week after hitting her foot while in the barriers at the meeting.

O’Hara enjoyed a fruitful spring carnival with a Group 1 victory aboard Rediener in the Epsom Handicap as well as a big race triumph on Palmetto in the Five Diamonds Prelude.

She has 14 winners for the season.


Aramayo, who at the time was trained by James Cummings, started $6 favourite in a wide-open edition of the Group 3 NJC Spring Stakes (1600m). Ridden on the day by Tye Angland, son of Poet’s Choice beat his Godolphin stablemate Cloak by the best part of a length with Greysful Glamour back in third. Aramayo, now stationed with Sam Kavanagh has accepted for a race at Newcastle on Saturday as well as Sunday’s Taree Cup.


Savvy Nature was having just his fourth career start when he ran out an easy winner of the Spring Stakes with James McDonald riding for John O’Shea. Runner-up in the feature was Wordplay with the future Doncaster / Epsom and Canterbury Stakes winner Happy Clapper clocking in third. Savvy Nature went on to add the Group 2 MVRC AAMI Vase to his C.V. which included fourths in the Rosehill Guineas and AJC Derby, both times behind Criterion.

Savvy Nature, ridden by James McDonald, wins the Spring Stakes at Newcastle 10 years ago.

Two champion jockeys combined to take out the 2003 NJC Spring Stakes with NZ-bred gelding Allgunadoit. A grandson of Danehill, Allgunadoit was housed at Randwick by Kevin Moses and ridden to victory by Darren Beadman. Beadman’s mount defeated the Woodlands/Hawkes colt Niello who will be best remembered as being a full brother to Lonhro. Allgunadoit was one of five winners on the card for Beadman.