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  • Provincial Racing NSW


RETIRING Melbourne champion Damien Oliver and compatriot Ben Melham will be in Kris Lees’ corner in Friday’s $300,000 Newcastle Gold Cup (2300m).

Oliver’s booking for Kalapour and Melham’s for Cleveland were confirmed today by Lees, who is chasing a second victory in his hometown Group 3 feature at Broadmeadow.

After a string of minor placings, the leading Newcastle trainer finally won the Cup in 2020 with the now retired Australian Bloodstock-raced Mugatoo (Kerrin McEvoy), who a fortnight later was narrowly beaten by Mirage Dancer in the Group 1 The Metropolitan (2400m) at Royal Randwick.

Oliver, 51, who has ridden a remarkable 128 Group 1 winners - including two for Lees (Lucia Valentina in the 2016 Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick and Amokura in the Queensland Oaks at Eagle Farm in June this year) – recently announced he will pull down the curtain on his magnificent career by going back to where it all began, to ride at Perth’s summer carnival at the end of the year.

His farewell rides at Newcastle, where he has ridden four winners from 24 mounts, also include Kalapour’s stablemates in two other Group 3 highlights; Luncies (Cameron Handicap, 1500m) and Bellatrix Black (Tibbie Stakes, 1400m).

Luncies was also resuming when he was runner-up to Wild Chap in a small field in last year’s Cameron, whilst former New Zealand mare Bellatrix Black is also beginning a new campaign.

Both the Cameron and Tibbie carry $250,000 purses.

Lees began contemplating a replacement Newcastle Cup rider for Kalapour after he started favorite but unfortunately was involved in the Wyong Cup drama yesterday week and lost his jockey Tim Clark when The Mediterranean broke down near the 700m, which started a chain reaction and resulted in several horses not being able to fully complete the race.

“When it was apparent that Tim’s injuries meant he would not be able to continue his association with Kalapour, I thought about Ollie as we have had such a good association,” Lees said today.

“I am thrilled he agreed to come up for our big meeting, and pleased to have him ride in the three Group 3 races on Friday.”

Lees said Kalapour had come through the Wyong Cup incident without any problems, and Cleveland had trained on well since an excellent first-up fourth to Hosier in the Group 3 Premier’s Cup (2000m) at Randwick on August 19, at his first start for him.

Melham, who won the 2017 Golden Slipper Stakes at Rosehill Gardens on She Will Reign, regularly rides for the Williams family, in whose colours Irish import Cleveland races.

His only ride at Newcastle was for Australian Bloodstock in last year’s Cup when he finished fifth on the Ciaron Maher-David Eustace-trained Mankayan to subsequent Caulfield Cup winner Durston.

Lees recalls Oliver coming to Newcastle in 1998 to ride the tough West Australian sprinter Corporate James for his late father Max in the Cameron Handicap.

Corporate James started a $4.80 favorite and ran sixth to another local, the “Broadmeadow Bulldog” Adam.

“Damien was just beaten on Max’s sprinter Mutombo in the 900m Open Handicap that day, and won a Class 1 Handicap (1600m) on Salerno for trainer Ray Cleaver,” Lees said.

It is believed Oliver last rode here in 2001 at the Newcastle Newmarket meeting. He ran second on David Throsby’s Perfect Paradise in the Country Cup (beaten by Max Lees’ favorite Scottish Pride), and was unplaced on Nigel Blackiston’s Weasel Will ($12) in the Group 3 Newmarket (1400m), now known as the Newcastle Stakes.

Lees will have dual representation in each of Friday’s Group 3 features.

He also plans to run Inver Park with Luncies in the Cameron, and Razeta with Bellatrix Black in the Tibbie. Lees’ gun apprentice Dylan Gibbons will ride Inver Park and Razeta.

. Lees made his first visit to Tuncurry racecourse yesterday, where he landed a double with favorites Chilli Filly ($2.20) and Elleves ($3.40), and was impressed with the set-up and the overall manner in which the meeting was conducted.

. Fellow Novocastrian, the internationally successful trainer Paul Perry, may back up today’s Rosehill Gardens winner Olympic Gaze in Friday’s Cup.

“I will definitely nominate him, and see how he comes through,” Perry said after Olympic Gaze ($15) outstayed his rivals in the 2400m Benchmark 78 Handicap.

*Words John Curtis, September 9, 2023 - Pic Michael McInally*

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