By Geoff Newling
Ballina Jockey Club is preparing for a big start to Melbourne Cup week. The BJC races next Monday, a day before the race that stops a nation unfolds at Flemington and received 95 nominations for the seven-race TAB meeting today.
While the 3200m Melbourne Cup dominates racing, the BJC has its own staying test, a $20,000 Wardell On The River Hotel Benchmark 65 Handicap (2650m), on its Monday card.
BJC chief executive officer, Matt Bertram, said the 2650m race has exceeded all expectations: “We’ve run it the last few years, the first year we had six runners and the next seven or eight,” Matt Bertram said. “This year we’ve had 17 nominations, that’s massive, phenomenal and there are a few handy ones in it too.”
It garnered 17 nominations today, including the Stephen Lee-trained Scotty Be Gotti. Ballina-based Lee was also in the winners stall at Grafton this afternoon when five-year-old gelding Alatora was a convincing winner of the $20,000 Arlington Heights Class 3 Handicap (1006m).
The son of Captain Gerrard was resuming from a spell and had won at Murwillumbah before having a break. Brooke Stower had her first win for Stephen Lee stable since moving there and the apprentice was appreciative for their support.
“It was my first winner for Steve,” Brooke Stower told Sky Thoroughbred Central after the impressive win. “Steve’s been really good to me. He’s a really nice horse,” she said of Alatora. “He has been working super and will only improve a bit more off that. I think he is a nice horse who will go through his grades.”
Stephen Lee said Alatora has improved off his last preparation: “He was still learning his last prep,” he told Sky Thoroughbred Central. “He has come back a different horse, you can tell he learnt a lot last prep. I think he can go on to bigger and better things.”