Sylvester goes “beyond the Black Stump” to win another cup

Georgina McDonnell guides the Jeremy Sylvester-trained Harry and the Duke to victory in Sunday’s Woop Woop Cup at Wauchope Jockey Club. Photo: Trackside Photography.

Jeremy Sylvester has won his beloved hometown Cessnock Jungle Juice Cup eight times.

And now he can add the Woop Woop Cup to his trophy cabinet.

The former baker was “in the dough” again yesterday when eight-year-old gelding Harry And The Duke blitzed his rivals to give him his first success in the iconic annual race at Wauchope.

Ridden by apprentice Georgina McDonnell, Harry And The Duke ($4.20) romped home six lengths ahead of Classic Bright ($7) and $2.30 favourite Praeferox.

Sylvester is the fifth trainer of Harry And The Duke, a $30,000 yearling buy for Hawkesbury trainer Terry Croft at the 2015 Inglis Classic sale.

He didn’t race for Croft, and was subsequently prepared by Sylvester’s fellow Cessnock trainers Greg Preston, Robert “Pud” Davies and Wendy Platts.

It took 24 starts before the gelding broke through at $41 for Davies in a 1600m Maiden Plate at Taree in December, 2018 before winning again two starts later at $10 at Cessnock on January 8, 2019.

He hadn’t greeted the judge again before Sylvester purchased him from Wendy Platts earlier this year for $1500 and $500 for his first win.

“Wendy had virtually despaired of winning a race with him,” Sylvester said.

“Pud (Davies) wasn’t in the best of health at the time, and suggested I should buy him if I could.

“I did a deal with Wendy as I thought it would give Pud a real lift if I could win a race with him.”

Remarkably, but certainly not surprising considering Sylvester won four Jungle Juice Cups in succession with Youthful King (the last in 2015 as a nine-year-old), Harry And The Duke’s Wauchope victory was his fourth this season as an eight-year-old (and sixth overall from a 69-start career).

“He is as sound as they come, and has a lovely temperament,” Sylvester told NSW Country & Picnic Racing this morning.

“Our daughter Lucy wanted to get a photo with him on Christmas Day morning and he was halfway up the stairs and would have come into the house if I had let him.

“Harry And The Duke is a real character and loves life. I train him out of a paddock and only occasionally take him to the track at Cessnock.

“He has been a great buy. We’ve won more than $40,000 prizemoney with him.”

Although Harry And The Duke had been unplaced at his previous start at Warren on December 10, Sylvester was confident the gelding would run well yesterday.

“I brought him back from 2000m at Taree on heavy ground on November 29 to run over 1400m at Warren,” he explained.

“It was a good pipe-opener for the Woop Woop Cup, which I had been aiming him at for some time.”

It wasn’t the first time either that Sylvester had switched distances with his versatile “star”.

He ran Harry And The Duke over 1900m when fifth in the Spring Cup at Armidale on October 7, then 16 days later won with him at the same track over a considerably shorter 1300m.

Sylvester complimented Wauchope Jockey Club on a successful meeting, saying there were eight bookmakers fielding.

“They are a good little club and do a great job,” he said.

“But being there yesterday, I kept wondering why we still aren’t racing at Cessnock (which is now owned by Racing NSW).”

Sylvester is great mates with Australia’s winningest jockey, the now retired Robert Thompson, who rode more than 100 winners for him.

Each was best man at the other’s wedding, and they live close to one another at Kitchener, only a couple of kilometres from the racetrack. 

It was Thompson’s late father Arthur who pushed him, albeit reluctantly, into training.

“I started going to Arthur’s stables as a 14-year-old, and learnt everything from him about training racehorses,” he said.

“He took My Star Sapphire as a three-year-old to Grafton in 1981 for the Cup, and asked me to go along and look after the horse.

“I slept at the stable for a couple of nights leading up to the race to ensure nothing untoward happened, and Robert rode him to beat older horses to win the Cup.

“Arthur could see I had a real liking for the horses, and said I should get myself one.

“I bought a Noble Bijou (who sired My Star Sapphire) yearling from a Mellay mare in New Zealand the following year for $8000, and intended for Arthur to train him.”

The Thompsons had other ideas and talked Sylvester into talking out his own licence. He won with Noble Mellay at only his third start at Wyong – and there are no prizes for guessing who rode him!

With eight Jungle Juice Cups tucked away along with a Woop Woop Cup, what’s next for Sylvester and Harry And the Duke?

“Timbuktu! Is there a Cup there?,” he quipped, never in short supply when it comes to a sense of humour.