Next Level went up a notch to claim Monday’s $25,000 Tooheys New Cessnock Cup after going to the post the $3.75 favourite.
The four-year-old More Than Ready gelding always looked a winning chance and took out the feature event by just under two lengths after a superb ride by regular jockey Mitchell Bell.
Sydney trainer Garry Portelli put the polish on the winner which was coming off a solid win at Bathurst earlier this month. Bottom weight Patinage was second with local hero Robert Thompson filling third spot on Clune’s Rocket.
The big crowd was treated to some top racing with Grant Buckley riding four winners and three places on the eight race card.
Buckley rode the Steve Farley-trained Patinage ($9) to a 1.8-length second to $3.80 favourite Next Level, for Sydney trainer Gary Portelli, in the $25,000 Cessnock Cup.
“The winner was too good, too strong, but my horse ran well, definitely, ran out of its skin,” Buckley said.
Buckley won with Difficult To Get and Hammoon Boy for Wyong trainer Jeff Englebrecht, Brobak for Cessnock’s Todd Howlett and Nicco’s Lass for Taree trainer Bob Milligan.
He was unplaced in only one race, the last, when fourth on Tracey Bartley’s Fired Up.
Buckley said he had ridden four winners on a program a few times but never broken through for a fifth.
“I was unlucky there at Newcastle one day,” he recalled.
“I had the first four winners then got beat a head in the fifth, and that’s the closest I’ve come to five.
“I’ve been pretty lucky in my career because I’ve had a few days like that. It’s always nice to come home after a day like that.
“You get a lot of confidence out of it, and it’s a confidence game.”
He was also happy to get the better of Australian wins record-holder and champion Cessnock hoop Robert Thompson, who had two placings.
“It’s good to get past the king, RT, on his own track,” Buckley laughed. “He reckons it’s his turn next meeting.
“I had a blinder of a day. All my winners did well. Hammoon Boy, he’s always an honest horse, and Bob Milligan’s ran really well. He went super and they went to the races quite confident.
“It’s always good to ride winners for Jeff, he’s always been a great supporter of mine, and so is Bob.”
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