It's long been known as the gateway to the Hunter, but little Cessnock looms as gateway to the winning stall today for leading Newcastle trainer Kris Lees.
In fact, if placement goes a long way, the first four races look bang on his radar, and there may not be much left over on the eight-race card.
Hometown hero: Newcastle trainer Kris Lees.Credit:Darren Pateman
The first saddlecloth of the day five-year-old mare So You Merge looks ready to win his first race in a while third-up in the opening Benchmark 58 Handicap over 2125m, beautifully drawn to park right behind the speed.
Lees then saddles up resuming and consistent three-year-old filly Bubbles Ball in a BM 58 Hcp (Race 2) over the 900m scamper. Having finished no worse than second in her first prep last spring, including a dominant third-up maiden win at Coffs Harbour, Bubbles Ball has been almost a specialist "plunge" runner. But punters have learnt the hard way. Three times she was heavily backed into even money or well into odds-on and three times she went under. But once, twice, even three times bitten, punters can forgive yet rarely forget, and the flying daughter of Zoustar can set about regaining friends in the market.
She won't have it all her own way, though, with smart four-year-old Gosford gelding Go Joyce Go also resuming off a lengthy break with an impressive home track trial win in good time.
The third leg of the Lees bid is likely the most impressive. High class sprinter Jazette, fresh from a cracking first-up win from the front at Taree, takes on a modest field of sprinters in a Class 1 Handicap over 1150m, and while up in weight and drawn a little wide, it's hard to argue with her short-priced quote.
And if the stable is still rolling high by race four – a Maiden Plate over 1350m – stylish three-year-old filly Blazenbrook can join the party. After just being run down from the front resuming at Tuncurry, this lightly-raced daughter of Hinchinbrook looks supremely placed from the inside draw.
Throw in three-year-old gelding and resuming top-weight Exdream in a Class 1 Handicap over 1150m in race seven, and it's easy to see why the Lees yard can expect a big slice of the pie, but he certainly won't win Newcastle's "Yearn for Improvement" award. That belongs to the connections of six-year-old Time Of The Dragon in race seven who in 10 starts so far has finished last three times and never better than 7th of 11. It has also been beaten by almost a collective 100 lengths. The best is surely still to come.
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