TWO 'big gun' gallopers scratched from city racing on Saturday fought out the finish of the $60,000 XXXX Gold 2014 Taree Gold Cup (2000m), visiting horses dominating the card at Taree Wingham Race Club's TAB meeting at Bushland Drive Racecourse on Sunday.
Victory went to rejuvenated six-year-old Newcastle gelding Slivovitz (15-4), trained by Kris Lees, with Wyong's Lucky Liaison (11-4 favourite), from the stable of Kristen Buchanan, a gallant second after looking the winner 100m out.
Lees joined his father Max Lees who won the cup (then over 1400m) with Mondo Rae which dead-heated with Tuxedo Charlie, trained by Steve Englebrecht in 1981.
Both Slivovitz and Lucky Liaison were scratched from Randwick on Saturday to be reserved for the cup and the just under a length separating the two was testament to their ability on the heavy track before an excellent crowd considering rain early in the day.
Winning jockey Andrew Gibbons was all praise for Lees who rejuvenated Slivovitz from tendon trouble with the help of stem cells to record its fifth win at start 19.
Gibbons celebrated the win with his two children Dylan, 12 and Ryan, 5 and partner Keeley Gageler, with Gibbons having just returned from a fortnight's holiday to ride in the cup.
He said country racing was the 'backbone' of the industry and praised the Bushland Drive track - "it has come a long way since the club has a new curator (Scott Olson) - a great job."
Gibbons said Lees had done a 'super effort' with the gelding which was diagnosed with its problems about two years ago.
Slivovitz was at the back of the field early, Gibbons content for the others to do the 'donkey work'.
"This horse just wants to race and I was confident of winning a long way out."
Buchanan's Lucky Liaison was given a charmed run two back on the outside,she saying that apprentice Samantha Clenton rode her horse 'beautifully'.
"We went so close,"she said with a shrug.
Six-year-old Coffs Harbour gelding Samsili (8-1), Cessnock jockey Robert Thompson's pick-up ride after Taree's Southern Shimmer wasn't accepted due to injury, was just over a length back in third, just ahead of Warwick Farm's Wingham Cup winner Scottish Border, both of them coming from the rear to highlight that runners were not disadvantaged by the heavy track.
Taree gelding Phrases had every chance (as did the other local horses) and could not improve on its second in last year's Taree Cup.
Gibbons may have been drawing deep breaths due to his energetic win after his holiday but his delight in having his first Taree Cup win wasn't lost on his family.
Club chairman Greg Coleman thanked the crowd, sponsors and praised the winner with main cup sponsor intimating "we hope to continue the sponsorship."
The 'old team' of Cessnock trainer Jeremy Sylvester, nine-year-old gelding Youthful King (15-4) and Australia's most winning jockey Robert Thompson, combined to score by just under a length in one of the feature races at Taree Wingham Race Club's TAB meeting on Sunday.
They last teamed up to win the hometown Jungle Juice Cup in July, one of many wins for the combination, but this one was special as Youthful King had to make up at least 10 lengths from the turn to win the $17,000 Taree Motorama Mercedes Benz Taree Cup Day Sprint Handicap over 1250m.
Sylvester said the win was a consolation for him and the horse in going to Brisbane for a race just over a week ago only to have it abandoned due to wet weather.
"This win certainly paid for the trip to Queensland," Sylvester said.
Just when Scone gelding Star Of Dubai (16-1 to 10-1), trained by Luke Griffith, looked a winner, Youthful King descended fast wide out,.
Port Macquarie's All About Willy, the early leader, faded to third just ahead of the unlucky stablemate Get On The Grange.
Taree Cup runner-up jockey Samantha Clenton posted a well-timed win on four-year-old Broadmeadow mare Prime Shadow (9-4), trained by Kris Lees, in the Saxby's Soft Drinks Fillies & Mares Class 1 Handicap over 1250m.
"The key is to ride her back and then she gave plenty," Clenton said.
A Melbourne Cup cheer greeted the win of six-year-old gelding Grand Condor (5-2), trained at Broadmeadow by Steve Hodge and ridden by Alex Stokes, after it swept to a just under a length win in the Turfcare Benchmark 65 Handicap over 1000m.
There are 60 members of an owner's syndicate in Grand Condor and 15 of them were trackside, having come up in a bus, to cheer the gelding to victory.
The only Mid North Coast galloper to win was three-year-old gelding Prince Mayted (6-4), trained at Wauchope by Colt Prosser and ridden by Port Macquarie premier jockey Peter Graham,in the $20,000 Home On The Grange At Stud Maiden Plate over 1000m.
The locally bred galloper by Glenthorpe Park sire Mayhaab was runner-up in four previous starts and broke that sequence by just over a length.
Other winners were Little Queen (2-1), trained at Muswellbrook by Nathan Doyle and ridden by Samantha Clenton; Blue Phantom (11-4), a ride for Sydney hoop Joshua Parr for Gosford trainer Adam Duggan; and Coffs Harbour mare Shadow Rein (6-1), trained by owner Terry Walshe and ridden by Port apprentice Andrew Adkins.
NOTE: Look for Doug's column next Wednesday for more news from the meeting.