Jonker trainer David Atkins enjoys magic win in first Max Lees Classic | photos, videos

SPEED MACHINE: The David Atkins-trained Jonker powers away from his rivals close to home in the Max Lees Classic on Sunday at Newcastle Racecourse. Pictures: Jonathan Carroll
SPEED MACHINE: The David Atkins-trained Jonker powers away from his rivals close to home in the Max Lees Classic on Sunday at Newcastle Racecourse. Pictures: Jonathan Carroll

THE Magic Millions Classic, and perhaps many more big races, beckon for Jonker after his impressive victory on debut at Newcastle on Sunday.

For his Newcastle trainer David Atkins, however, claiming the first, $50,000 Max Lees Classic will always be special.

Jonker, the $1.45 favourite, justified heavy support with a commanding three-length win in the inaugural 900-metre two-year-old race created to honour the champion Newcastle trainer, who died in 2003. Aaron Bullock took the Spirit Of Boom colt to the lead and he was never threatened, winning in 51.27 seconds.

The performance led to Jonker’s price coming in from $25 to $11 with TAB Fixed Odds for the January 13, $2 million Magic Millions Classic (1200m) on the Gold Coast.

Atkins said “there’s a long way to go” before that race and he was focused on the $200,000 Wyong Magic Millions (1100m) on December 21 and Sunday’s win. 

“It was good to win a race named after Max,” Atkins said. “I always thought very highly of him. I came down here about 25 years ago and I’d talk to Max of a morning. He was just a nice bloke, a very normal person. He never thought he was better than anyone else, and they are the people I like.”

Newcastle Jockey Club chairman Geoff Barnett hoped to grow the race, which was the brainchild of CEO Matt Benson. Atkins believed it was a great addition to the calendar.

“Years ago they used to have the Beauford Stakes and the Thoroughbred Stakes and they were very good two-year-old races that they did away with,” Atkins said.

“I think it’s a good race and people know it’s around now. You will get the city horses coming up and it’s probably a good race leading into the Magic Millions at Wyong, with the 900 into 1100 metres.”

ALL SMILES: Jonker part-owner Doug Crich enjoying the win.

ALL SMILES: Jonker part-owner Doug Crich enjoying the win.

Bullock, who is coming back from time out with weight problems, hoped to keep the ride on Jonker and said “it might be the next kick in my career that I need”.

“When they come to him, he really grabbed the bit, which is a good sign,” Bullock said. “He overdid it a bit but I just compensated and held him for an extra 50 in the straight, and he did well. He’s definitely a nice horse and he’s got a lot more in him, don’t worry about that.

“I’ve ridden a lot of two-year-old of Kris’s but I said to Dave I haven’t had one give me a feel like this in a long time.”

Part-owner Doug Crich picked out the $45,000 buy because of his distant relation to his former Atkins-trained group 2 winner, Impaler. Crich said it was “a very big privilege” to win the first Max Lees Classic.

Newcastle trainer Alan Scorse, who is recovering from a battle with cancer, was another emotional winner on the day. Magiclease held on for a narrow win, his third in a row in a comeback from more than a year out with a tendon injury.

It was also a memorable day for Newcastle trainer Ben Smith, who had a winning double with the Josh Adams-ridden Golly Miss Solly and Hank Scorpio.

ON TOP: Jockey Aaron Bullock after Jonker's victory.

ON TOP: Jockey Aaron Bullock after Jonker's victory.

Cessnock trainer Greg Campbell won with Balaha and Newcastle trainer Jason Deamer with Lady Montoya.

Crich, meanwhile, was looking forward to a Magic Millions campaign with Jonker.

“We’re just a bunch of mates out on the golf course who decided we were going to buy a horse at the Millions, and they entrusted me to have a look at them, I don’t know why,” Crich said.

“And we’ve come up with this horse because he was a little bit related to Impaler. He wasn’t dear but I didn’t have many more thousands to go in the kick, so it was a good buy. We’re very, very excited and he’s told us from day one, Aaron, that it was a good horse.”