A PANSTAKING battle for nearly two years by Newcastle trainer Kris Lees to have mare Think Free ($4.80) ready to "fire" again was aided by a brilliant 100th season win by jockey Aaron Bullock in a memorable Wauchope RSL Club Wauchope Cup at Kempsey Racecourse on Sunday.
The magic performances of the trainer, his horses and jockeys from the stable were again to the fore, Lees and Bullock having winning doubles and "new kid on the block", 18-yer-old apprentice jockey Dylan Gibbons grabbing another winning treble, his third in less than a month at Mid North Coast meetings.
But it was the nearly two lengths win of the five-year-old in the 1450m cup which showed that Lees and the 19 owners, headed by Australian Bloodstock, never gave up on the mare returning to the winner's stall.
Her previous win was over 1400m at Warwick Farm in July, 2019, after scoring at Port Macquarie, Scone and Newcastle twice.
After the Warwick Farm win, the mare had five spells or freshen ups along with many barrier trials.
As stable foreman Keiran Forbes said at Kempsey: "She had a long time off with a few issues.
"We have just got her right again," he said of the So You Think mare out of Gratis, a winner at Mornington and Moonee Valley in 19 starts.
He said before the race that she had improved from her first start back when fourth at Muswellbrook.
Bullock had her idling just behind the leading pack before she collared leader Buffy ($26) from the Port stable of Jenny Graham and dual leader Armidale's Rexx ($7).
Fourth was Wingham Cup winner Lolita Gold ($8) just in front of Taree's Texas Storm which didn't seem to appreciate its ace barrier in being locked on the fence.
Bullock also had a win on Wyong's five-year-old gelding Oakfield Target ($2), trained by Damian Lane, in the Port City Glass Handicap over 1450m whereas Lees and Gibbons combined for an easy nearly two lengths win with filly Asherla ($1.75) in the Tecnix HVAC&R Pty Ltd Air Plate over 1000m at her fourth start.
Gibbons kicked off racing on the soft 5-rated track with an easy three lengths win, leading all the way on Taree four-year-old gelding Barry's Lane ($7.50) for owner-trainer Joseph Burges, in the SB Commercial Building Handicap over 1450m.
Burges only took up training a small team of gallopers at the start of the season and Barry's Lane was his third winner.
"My horse has been racing on unsuitable tracks and he is now learning to be a racehorse," he said.
Gibbons' third win was on gelding Pipe Dreams ($5) for Coffrs Harbour trainer Gary Payne in the Craig Chapman Building Class 1 Handicap over 1250m.
Payne said the former Victorian galloper was unlucky at Armidale when it lost the jockey.
The other feature race, the M&S Print The Bago Bluff Wauchope Sprint over 1000m was won by Grafton gelding Jule's Spirit ($5), trained by John Shelton, which came with a late run from its wide barrier to score by a length and book itself into some rich races at the upcoming Grafton Cup Carnival in July.
Gibbons was on favourite Mr Polar, going for three wins in a row for Newcastle veteran trainer Charlie Porter, but it didn't show its normal blisterng speed and finished mid-field.
The heavily backed The Drake ($4.80), trained at Port by Jenny Graham, put in the run of the day in the race in coming from the rear of the field, wide-out, for second.
Three-year-old $2.05 favourite Monte Di Rose, trained on the track by D&R Simonetta, lived up to its resuming good second last start to give jockey Jon Grisedale a comfortable just over a length win in the Inland 4WD & Tractors Handicap over 1250m.
Capable and top-weight Port Macquarie filly Oh Say ($3.60), trained by Neil Godbolt and ridden again by apprentice Louise Day, showed her toughness with a just under a length win in the HLW Projects Benchmark 58 Handicap over 1250m.
In nine starts the filly has won three races and placed four times for around $75,000 in prizemoney and bonuses.
Day said she had to wind up the filly early because of her top-weight.