Millers, Hodge pull off Newcastle plunge

Punters cheer on the horses at Newcastle on Saturday. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Punters cheer on the horses at Newcastle on Saturday. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

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Newcastle gelding Grand Condor brought off a long-range plunge when he beat a quality field of sprinters in the 900-metre Hurricane Handicap on the second day of the Newcastle spring carnival on Saturday.

Trained on the Newcastle track by Steve Hodge, the nine-year-old was an $81 chance with corporate bookmakers on Friday night. Connections and stable followers snapped up the long odds and by race time the sprinter was a $31 chance in a very strong betting race.

Canberra apprentice Rachel Hunt, on loan from Warwick Farm trainer Mark de Montfort, made use of Grand Condor’s speed and he raced outside the leader, Aomen.

He took the lead in the straight and held off determined challenges from the Cessnock three-year-old Three Sheets ($5) and Wouldn’t It Be Nice ($8.50).

The win was a windfall for Central Newcastle rugby league coach Barney Miller and his son Lucas, who is racing manager for Kris Lees.

The Millers bred Grand Condor, but the gelding had been leased, until Saturday, by the Newcastle-based From The Track syndicate.

He won seven races and $137,000 for the syndicate before the lease expired. The horse’s future was up in the air after he was seventh at Muswellbrook on August 6.

Miller has bought a property at Lochinvar, where he plans to retire Grand Condor, but he and his son have decided to keep the horse in training with close friend Hodge for the time being.

The trainer was over the moon on Saturday.

“He had not won a race for a long time, but he had been a good old horse for the syndicate before Barney and Lucas decided to race him themselves,” he said.

“I freshened him up for the Hurricane and he was very well weighted with 51kg on his back after Rachel’s 3kg claim. 

“Lucas and I were confident and we did back him at the $81.”

The runner-up, Three Sheets, is trained by Jeremy Sylvester and part-owned, coincidentally, by newly appointed Cessnock Goannas coach Al Lantry.

The latter was coached by Miller in his days with the Cessnock club.

Three Sheets has been set for next month’s Jungle Juice Cup at Cessnock, and it was an impressive first-up run.

Nathan Perry, foreman for his father, Paul, revealed that Wouldn’t It Be Nice had run his last race after five wins and $557,000 in prizemoney.

Perry was the only other Newcastle trainer to taste success on Saturday. Surjin, the three-year-old son of Perry’s Golden Slipper winner Stratum, steamed home to win the 1400m maiden handicap by 1½ lengths.

The colt put the writing on the wall on debut when third on the Beaumont track on September 5.

Sydney jockey Koby Jennings, who has been in great form at Newcastle, landed a double for two of Australia’s most successful stables.

He saluted on Seaglass for Peter and Paul Snowden in the 1200m class 1 handicap and brought odds-on favourite Newburgh from the tail of the field to win the 900m maiden plate for the Hawkes stable.

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