By Gary Harley
Newcastle trainer David Atkins has won races in Victoria and New South Wales with stable stars Reckless Tradition, Moss Rocket and Impaler, but he said on Friday that winning the inaugural Max Lees Classic would be one of the highlights of his very successful training career.
The $52,000 Max Lees 2-Year-Old Classic is the highlight of the Newcastle Jockey Club Master Builders Association “Legends” Raceday at the Newcastle Racecourse on Sunday.
The club is honouring the Late Max Lees who trained 20 Group 1 winners before he passed away on August 26, 2003. The other Legend is Australian Hall of Fame jockey Robert Thompson who will ride at the meeting and make the presentation to the winner of the Robert Thompson Cup.
Atkins's two-year-old colt Jonker is an early favourite for the Max Lees Classic following a cracking nine-length 800 metre barrier trial win on the Beaumont track on November 21. Jonker's
time of 47.56 was nearly two seconds faster than that recorded on the day by Sizzleonthebridge one of the colt’s opponents on Sunday. Atkins said on Friday that plenty of horses look good in trials but don’t perform on raceday.
Max Lees was a true gentleman and a great trainer. “Despite his success Max never changed. He would always stop and have a chat if he bumped into you. I would love to win his race on Sunday, trials are trials and it is different under race conditions.
"I have had plenty of good triallers that didn’t perform on the raceday. However, this colt Jonker is pretty smart and he is such a professional. He is a very fast horse but he will relax and not pull hard.
"If he jumps like he did in the trial he will cross and lead on the rail from the good barrier. A horse went with him in the trial and when Aaron Bullock gave him a slap down the shoulder he went into another gear.
"Jonker is not a real big colt but he is growing all the time. I am going to the races on Sunday confident but guarded as they are only two-year-olds having their first starts. The owners had paid $45,000 for Jonker at the Magic Millions sale and if he runs well on Sunday we will probably head to Wyong Magic Millions race a week before Christmas. All going well, the Gold Coast Magic Millions is an option,” Atkins said.
The Godolphin filly Handspun, with Brenton Avdulla aboard, debuts after a nice Warwick Farm trial in which she displayed good speed. Kris Lees will saddle up Sizzleonthebridge in his father’s race. It would be an emotional win if the Lees colt wins the race as Kris's mother Vicki is a part-owner.
Sunday will see the 14th year of the Robert Thompson Cup. The Cessnock boy's career tally stands at an amazing 4,315 winners. He will ride Di’s Diamond an outsider in the race in which the Godolphin gelding Intuition will be favourite after an impressive first-up win at Gosford.
All function areas are fully booked with more than 350 in the Mark Hughes Foundation fundraiser in the trackside marquee.