If the theory is right that you need to lose one to win one then Kris Lees and the Australian Bloodstock team are overdue.
There has been three renewals of the $1m The Hunter at Newcastle and each time the trainer and owners have had to settle for second place.
In the inaugural running of The Hunter, they had Tactical Advantage beating all but Savatiano.
Then in 2020, Special Reward led for home and gave a real kick until Sweet Deal sprinted by to win by a length.
Last year, Lees and Australian Bloodstock were represented by the runner-up again with Wandabaa chasing home top class sprinter Lost And Running.
Lees is hoping his run of near misses in the richest race run on his home track is coming to an end.
“I would love to win my hometown race,” Lees said.
“Anytime you are racing for $1 million it is going to create a lot of interest and this race is going from strength to strength. The depth of this year’s field is the best so far.
“Last year, Lost And Running won The Hunter, Top Ranked ran third and he subsequently won an Epsom. They are both outstanding horses but this race on Saturday has quality right across the board. It is a very good race.
“The Hunter is well placed leading towards The Ingham next month with the sprinters being stretched out to 1300m and the milers kept fresh.”
Jamie Lovett and Luke Murrell of Australian Bloodstock are also Novocastrians with designs on winning The Hunter.
“I definitely think this race is here to stay,” Lovett said. “I don’t know if we have the ammunition this year but we will always target the race.”
Australian Bloodstock’s Wandabaa (black cap) and Top Ranked (checked cap) finished second and third respectively behind Lost And Running in The Hunter last year. Picture: Getty Images
Their “ammunition” for Saturday’s The Hunter (1300m) comes in the shape of the Lees-trained Gem Song, a multiple stakes winner who has been competitive at Group 1 level during his career.
The fact Gem Song is rated at generous odds of $18 is a reflection of the quality of Saturday’s field where In The Congo is $4 favourite ahead of fourth emergency Waihaha Falls at $4.80 then Vilana at $6 and Apache Chase next at $6.50.
But for Lees and Australian Bloodstock, their luck is in at the moment and perhaps Gem Song can secure them an elusive The Hunter win.
Last week, the familiar Australian Bloodstock colours of royal blue, white horseshoe, black and white checked sleeves and cap were worn by jockey Mark Zahra on the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace-trained Gold Trip to win the Melbourne Cup at Flemington.
On the same day at Royal Randwick, Lees prepared Rustic Steel for long-time stable clients Ron and Judi Wanless to win The Big Dance.
At Newcastle on Saturday, Lees, Lovett and Murrell are combining forces again with Gem Song for their attempt to finally go one better in The Hunter after their frustrating hat-trick of second placings with Tactical Advantage, Special Reward and Wandabaa in the feature race.
Lovett said if Gem Song could win The Hunter, it would be particularly satisfying as tragedy has struck two members of the syndicate that races the gelding.
“A couple of the owners are very good friends but they have dealt with tragic circumstances in recent times,” Lovett said who preferred not to comment further out of respect of the grieving families.
“It would be nice if the horse could win for them.”
Gem Song will go into Saturday’s big race in good form after resuming with a handy seventh, beaten less than two lengths behind Rocketing By and In The Congo in the Sydney Stakes.
The talented seven-year-old has a good second-up record, he’s got Hall of Fame jockey Hugh Bowman in the saddle and has drawn perfectly in barrier six.
“Gem Song ran well first-up, came out of that race in very good shape and the month between runs suits so he gets a few ticks,” Lees said.
But Lees dismissed any suggestions of a “home ground advantage” at Newcastle’s Broadmeadow racetrack on Saturday.
“I doubt it,” Lees said. “Every horse gets its chance on this track.
“I know some horses go better on their home track but others prefer a trip away. It doesn’t really matter for Gem Song, he’s an experienced racehorse.”
Gem Song has always been with the Lees stable and showed considerable potential as a younger horse but then needed a wind operation and suffered a tendon injury.
When Gem Song’s original owners decided to sell the gelding, Lees and Lovett were able to secure him for just $30,000.
“He was a horse that had a number of issues when we purchased him,” Lovett said.
“We couldn’t really put clients into the horse knowing the issues he had so Kris and I went into the horse with a couple of good mates of ours.”
Gem Song has proven to be a very astute investment as the relatively lightly-raced sprinter lines up for just his 29th start on Saturday but has already banked nearly $850,000 prizemoney.
Similarly, Lovett and Murrell hit the jackpot when they took a $2.2M gamble to purchase Gold Trip from Europe last year.
“Gold Trip was very exposed, he was a high class horse and had run fourth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe so we knew it was going to take a really big offer to get him,” Lovett said.
“Ciaron and David said they had some clients ready to buy into the horse so we had a throw at the stumps – it’s the most we have ever paid for a horse.
“You dare to dream when you buy a horse like Gold Trip but by winning the Melbourne Cup, he has more than paid his way now.”
Gold Trip gave Australian Bloodstock’s Jamie Lovett and Luke Murrell a second Melbourne Cup win after Protectionist in 2014. Picture: Getty Images
Gold Trip gave the Australian Bloodstock team their second Melbourne Cup after their success with Protectionist in 2014.
Lovett said unlike eight years ago he got to enjoy their Melbourne Cup success with Gold Trip last week.
“When Protectionist won the Cup, it was all a whirlwind and we were pulled from pillar to post with commitments,” Lovett recalled.
“With Gold Trip’s win last week, my wife and family were down in Melbourne and we sort of knew what to expect so we all got to enjoy it together.”
But those Melbourne Cup celebrations would probably pale in comparison if Gem Song can provide Lovett, Murrell and Lees with their first The Hunter win.
“Anything in your hometown is obviously extra special and The Hunter is our premier race now,” Lovett said.
“It would be pretty special if we could win the race.”
FILLIES CAN GIVE LEES SUCCESS IN SPECIAL RACE
There’s an understandable reason why champion trainer Kris Lees covets success in the feature juvenile race at The Hunter meeting at Newcastle on Saturday.
Lees has first starters Bangetta and Tracy’s Spirit lining up in the $150,000 Max Lees Classic (900m), named in honour of the trainer’s late father.
Max Lees trained many outstanding gallopers from his Broadmeadow stables including champion Luskin Star, winner of the 1977 juvenile triple crown, Snippets, Coronation Day, County Tyrone, Flitter and Ruffles.
When his father passed away in 2003, Kris Lees took over the stables and has carved his own niche, preparing nearly 2500 winners including 15 at Group 1 level, and earning Newcastle Hall of Fame honours.
“Obviously, it would mean a lot if I could win it,” Lees said.
“We’ve had runners before and gone close when Redoute’s Image (second) and Zeftabrook (third) were placed (behind Tilia Rose in 2019).
“Bangetta trialled really well and Tracy’s Spirit had a soft trial going into Saturday. They are both nice fillies and it would not surprise if they ran well.”
In early TAB Fixed Odds betting, Bangetta is prominent at $5.50 with stablemate Tracy’s Spirit at $21 behind equal favourites Cylinder and Wild Beau at $4.80.
Lees has a powerful entry for his home track The Hunter meeting including tough stayer Our Candidate in the $300,000 The Beauford (2300m).
Our Candidate followed his win in the Cessnock Cup with a close third behind Pale King at Rosehill last Saturday but Lees is going to wait until race morning before deciding if the gelding backs up at Newcastle.
“I accepted with Our Candidate only because the race didn’t come up quite as strong as the nominations looked earlier in the week,” Lees said.
“We will wait until Saturday to make the call on whether he runs again but at least we know the horse is racing well.”
Lees also has the promising former English galloper Adjourn set to make his Australian debut in the Jack Newton Legend Mile (1600m).
Adjourn, who is raced by Australian Bloodstock, has only had seven starts, winning at Doncaster back in July.
“We think Adjourn is a nice horse and it will be interesting to see how he goes on Saturday,” Lees said.
Adjourn has opened as the $3.90 favourite and stablemate Kedah is at $13 for the closer at The Hunter meeting.
Lees will also saddle up Never Talk, Acquitted and Loch Eagle in the Karaka 2023 Benchmark 88 Handicap (1300m) and Ting Tong in the Trans-Tasman Trophy (1850m).
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