He led the whole way home. Coal Crusher, the six-year-old chestnut gelding trained by Joe Pride at Warwick Farm, blitzed the turf at Newcastle Racecourse on Saturday, November 18, to claim the region's million-dollar race.
It was a resounding victory that broke the track record with a time of 1:15.49, finishing 1.1 lengths clear of Peter and Paul Snowden-trained King Of Sparta. Rocketing By was third.
As jockey Tyler Schiller - just off an earlier win on Wineglass Bay - steered his mount across the 1300-metre line, Coal Crusher's young strapper, Brave Pride, couldn't contain his joy.
After a leap at the finish, he fell into the arms of Stevey Arena, the gelding's part-owner, who dashed away a tear.
Ms Arena's late father, the legendary music entrepreneur and former manager of INXS Chris Murphy, bred the horse. It was his pride and joy. To see it come home to claim The Hunter was an emotional moment.
"With this, he had run the race of his career," Ms Arena said, "But we were ready for this.
"My dad would be losing his mind right now, and I'm on a rollercoaster. Joe, Brave, and the whole Pride family do the most amazing job with this horse.
"It's a team effort, and I'm so proud of everything they do."
As she stepped up to the microphone to claim the Hunter's coveted trophy, she dedicated the victory to her father.
"This is for my dad," she said.
Across the city, the roar of the jets from the RAAF's Air Show could be heard from the pristine turf of the track where a packed field had come to try their luck with the bookies, be seen, and soak up the Hunter sun.
Rachael Geddes had come from her hometown near Orange and was surrounded by friends for an afternoon at the races before her wedding.
It was a special moment for the young mum, who will marry her partner Jye Barrow in March. Her party was decked out in style, with a sash over her shoulder and heart-shaped sunglasses.
Though Miss Geddes had yet to strike luck on her picks for the afternoon, her party of friends had picked up a windfall by backing Sydney-trained gelding Wineglass Bay, which was ridden to a win in Race 5, an 1850-metre handicap.
The five-year-old Bay, also ridden to a win by Schiller, proved a handy punt for more than a few. It paid off for Teisha Bridge, who had come down from near Forster to spend the day with her brothers, Abe Woolnough and Brodi Woolnough.
The horse's syndicate part-owner, Andy Grant, dressed in a smart black shirt and stark white bow tie, was beaming from the lawn of the Trackside Marquee, where he had come to celebrate his work Christmas party with Jacinta John.
"We're in a syndicate," Mr Grant said, smiling. "We've hit on one, and it's going well at the moment."
The Hunter is the region's richest horse race and headlines a 10-race metropolitan standalone meeting at Broadmeadow. In 2023, the Newcastle Herald and its publisher, ACM, partnered with Racing NSW in a landmark deal that included naming rights for the million-dollar race now known as the Newcastle Herald Hunter.
The deal with ACM also included naming rights for the similarly prized million-dollar Gong, a 1600-metre race bearing the name of the Herald's sister publication, the Illawarra Mercury, which will be run a Kembla Grange on Saturday, November 25.
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