By Gary Harley
Promising three-year-old Jack’s Bar is Kris Lees's only starter on his home track on Thursday and the high-flying trainer said on Tuesday that an adverse barrier and the gelding's waywardness are the hurdles he has to overcome.
Jack’s Bar is unbeaten in two starts this preparation against inferior opposition in comparison to Thursdays 1200-metre Benchmark 62 Handicap. Jack’s Bar came from midfield to storm home and win a 1000m Taree Maiden first-up on January 4 and 19 days later, the youngster ran his rivals off their legs to win a 1257m Benchmark 55 handicap, again at Taree.
Lees decided to give Jack’s Bar another hit-out before he set him for his Provincial debut. That was in a 1000m Beaumont Newcastle Track barrier trial on February 14 where he was outclassed behind smart Metropolitan gallopers Serene Miss and Uptown Lad. Jack’s Bar over-raced badly for the first half of the trial before finishing last.
“There was a decent gap between his last start on January 23 and his next run so I decided to trial him. Thursday’s race is a good test for Jack’s Bar after two easy country wins. He is a work in progress as he is very wayward but the ability is there. He will need the right run from the tricky barrier, however, racing at home is an advantage,” Lees said.
Lees is closing in on a century of winners with only seven months of the current season completed. He has trained 94½ winners while one of his stable jockeys Aaron Bullock who rides Jack’s Bar on Thursday has ridden 60 winners this season.
Another Newcastle galloper with bright prospects is the David Atkins-trained Marman in the 1600m Benchmark 72 Handicap. The six-year-old appreciated a hot pace up front when he came from last on the turn with a barnstorming run to win first-up over 1400m on this track a month ago.
Singleton-based apprentice Mikayla Weir had her first ride on Marman when he won first-up and she retains the ride on Thursday. Weir’s three-kilogram claim will reduce Marman’s weight to 56kg, a luxury weight for the class runner in the race.
Metropolitan Jockeys' Premiership leader Brenton Avdulla will carry colours he hopes to wear to Group 1 success in the autumn when he pilots three-year-old Swaffham Bulbeck in the 1400m Class 2 Handicap. The gelding races in the same colours as superstar Chautauqua, second favourite for the Group 1 Darley TJ Smith Stakes at Randwick on April 7.
Trained by the Hawkes family, Swaffham Bulbeck resumed from a spell to win a Randwick Maiden on February 7 with Avdulla onboard. Very few horses win a Maiden then a Class 2 next start but this three-year-old can do it in this field.
He enjoyed a lovely run in second place at Randwick before being challenged in the straight. Prahaar drew level with Swaffham Bulbeck in the closing stages and appeared certain to win the race but ran out badly and dislodged Jason Collett.
The Snowden-trained Classic Thoughts can go back-to-back on the Newcastle track when she contests the opening event, an 1880m Class 1 and Maiden Plate. On February 17, courtesy of a peach of a ride from Mitchell Bell, the mare outstayed her opposition to win an 1850m Maiden.
Blake Shinn rides on Thursday and he will cuddle Classic Thoughts back in the field from the rails barrier.