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The fifth running of the $1 million The Newcastle Herald Hunter (1300m) will take place at the Newcastle Racecourse on Saturday and it is a bumper 10-race program, and Newcastle’s daily newspaper The Herald is sponsoring The Hunter for the first time in 2023.
Warwick Farm trainer Joe Pride, enjoying his best year with success in The Everest and Group 1 Stradbroke and the Kingsford Smith with Think About It, will saddle up the speedy Coal Crusher ($5 on TAB) in The Hunter.
The six-year-old has had three starts this preparation and he comes back to Newcastle in top form.
Two starts back Coal Crusher led to the 150m when fourth, 1.73 lengths behind I Am Me in the Sydney Stakes.
The blinkers go back on for The Hunter and he draws ideally in barrier two.
The gelding has won six races on rain-affected tracks, so if the showers arrive on Friday that won't be a problem.
Tyler Schiller has been aboard Coal Crusher in all three starts this preparation and he likes the idea of the blinkers going on.
"He is a bold running horse that you can't hold up - the blinkers will help. I don't believe they can lead him on Saturday, and Joe has timed his preparation for The Hunter perfectly.
"I would love to give him a breather after 300-metres and bring him back underneath me and he loves a wet track if we happen to get rain," Schiller said.
Coal Crusher has had three starts in his career at Newcastle for a win and two placings, however, Coal Crusher has matured into a quality sprinter since those days.
Tommy Berry has ridden the topweight Mazu ($5) in his past two starts in the Giga Kick and The Everest, but he won't be riding at Newcastle due to suspension.
However, I spoke to him during the week and Tommy spoke highly of Mazu's prospects in The Newcastle Herald Hunter.
"Mazu is the best horse in the race and he has drawn well. As everyone knows he had no luck in The Everest after drawing a terrible barrier and he was second last settling.
"Mazu was coming quick when he got flattened and lost all chance. I believe he would have finished alongside In Secret only for the interference.
"He never travelled that well in the Giga Kick but surged late and he was only beaten 2.15 lengths. This is a big drop in class for this horse.
"Mazu is going really well, and with a chance of some showers late in the week he loves a bit of give in the track," Berry said.
Snowden's other runner in The Hunter is King Of Sparta ($7), and despite winning two races on soft tracks the five-year-old races better on firmer surfaces. He finished midfield last start in the Sydney Stakes, but he drew barrier 15 and was never on the track.
The Northern Rivers galloper Far Too Easy ($4.80 favourite) is talented but up sharply in class and he has barrier one and Jason Collett to ride. He is versatile with a good record on wet or dry tracks but horror barriers have cost Far Too Easy recently.
Last start in the Kosciuszko he was 11th (of 14) on the turn and stormed home to finish third behind Front Page and Opal Ridge.
Two starts back in the Grafton Ramornie he was a good thing beaten when he flashed home from the tail of the field to just miss. Far Too Easy will appreciate the spacious track and the 1300m trip.
Newcastle's premier trainer Kris Lees is hoping to go one better in The Hunter with the well-credentialled Rustic Steel ($15). The gelding, after an 11-month spell finished midfield in the Sydney Stakes at Randwick five weeks ago, and he had a subsequent trial at Warwick Farm. The barrier is a negative, but a win would be no surprise.
Lees-trained gallopers have been runner-up in three of the four The Hunter run so far. Tactical Advantage was runner-up to Savatiano in 2019, Special Reward chased home Sweet Deal in 2020 and Wandabaa flashed home for second behind Lost And Running in 2021.
The Gai Waterhouse-Adrian Bott colt Invincible Spy ($4 fav) travels to Newcastle to attempt to maintain his unbeaten record in the Group 3-New Zealand Bloodstock 3yo Spring Stakes (1600m).
Invincible Spy has led all the way in his only two starts at Newcastle and Gosford over 1400m and 1600m respectively. This is his toughest test, and regular rider Tim Clark has the mount.
Stablemate Sly Boots ($8.50) has a good chance as he steps up to the "mile" for the first time. He ran on well when midfield second-up at Randwick recently, after a Kensington Track maiden win first-up.
Until Valhalla ($5.50) has only had two starts and has a good chance. She flashed home to be beaten a nose on debut at Hawkesbury on October 8, and on November 1 she was untroubled to lead all the way in a Kensington Super Maiden.
The NZB Airfreight Max Lees Classic (900m) for two-year-olds has a rich history. Godolphin's Cylinder was narrowly beaten after coming from the tail of the field, and his record in Group races since speaks for itself.
The inaugural Classic was won by Jonker, who in later years went on to win the Group 1-Manikato at Moonee Valley, and the majority of Sydney's leading stables have runners in the race on Saturday.
The Waterhouse-Bott trained colt Market Magic ($2.30 fav) is on debut after an easy Randwick trial win. The Godolphin pair Gram ($5) and Efharisto ($9.50) are nice youngsters with bright futures and the Maher-Eustace filly Erno's Cube ($4) will run well.
Saturday will also feature the best edition of the $300,000 New Zealand Bloodstock The Beauford (2300m). Paul Perry's Sky Lab ($5.50) had no luck in the recent Rosehill Cup and he will be hard to beat on his home track.
Numerian ($5.50), narrowly beaten in the Group 1-Doomben Cup in May is ready to fire, while Stroke Of Luck ($7.50) has a good chance.