As a teenager, Peter Snowden came home to the Hunter to be an apprentice for champion Newcastle trainer Max Lees.
In the end, Snowden took a different path, and he has no regrets, but the Scone-raised trainer believes he would have learned a lot from a “great man” who became a good mate.
Snowden, who trains in partnership with his son, Paul, said it was an honour and a privilege on Sunday to claim the race named in memory of Lees with first-starter Strasbourg.
The I Am Invincible colt cruised to a two-length win in the second annual Max Lees Classic (900 metres) for two-year-olds at Newcastle Racecourse.
After starting only fairly, the $1.60 favourite settled second last in the six-horse field. Jockey Corey Brown gave him room to move down the straight and Strasbourg responded to take over inside the final furlong and beat Snowzone, which is trained by Max’s son, Kris.
Snowden, the trainer of two-time Everest champion Redzel, was thrilled to claim the event.
“I knew Max really well,” said Snowden, who rode “a fair bit” for Lees during his days in the saddle.
“I spent some time in Vic Thompson’s stables and I was coming back to Newcastle to be apprenticed to Max Lees.
“While I was on holidays at my parents, a trainer at Scone, John Noonan, approached me to go with him. He was a good family friend so I went with Johnny.
“I’ve got no regrets, I’ve been extremely lucky all through my riding and training career, but it would have been great to work with Max because he’s a bloke I could have learnt a lot off.
“As a trainer, he was always there, and he was just a good friend, so it’s a pleasure to win a race in his honour.”
Snowden said Strasbourg, a $750,000 buy for China Horse Club, would next target the $500,000 Inglis Nursery (1000m) in two weeks.
“He’s a talented horse,” he said. “I had him in at Rosehill yesterday and I was almost going to take him there, but it was a great decision to come here.
“I was worried this was a touch short for him but he used his talent and hopefully he can go on with it from here to dizzy heights somewhere near his price tag.”
The win was one of four for Brown on Sunday. He also won the Mark Hughes Foundation Maiden Handicap (1300m) with Charretera for the Snowdens, the inaugural Gary Harley Handicap (2300m) with Quality Approach for Ciaron Maher and David Eustace and a maiden plate (1300m) with Sizzled for Brad Widdup.
Brown believed Strasbourg would get even better over more ground.
“He cleaned the lids all right but he didn’t muster speed, he’s obviously looking for further,” Brown said. “The speed was pretty genuine, so even though I was back there, I knew I would be able to get over the top of them.
“He's still quite new and a bit looky. He’s still learning, but there’s plenty of upside to him, so I took my time getting there but he won as he liked on the line.”
“He gives you the feel that later on his life, he’s going to be a miler. He’s a beautiful horse.”