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Two Christchurch milkies stood quietly in the birdcage during the ceremony following the close finish between Lennon and Born Again Christian in the $200,000 PGG NZ Yearling Sales Series Open.

Without fanfare, they slipped into the nearby bar, made a toast to Lennon, and left with the comforting satisfaction of knowing the major part they played in the win. Don Bates and his racing partner Steve Hammar are small time breeders now operating in the top commercial section of the market. Bates bred Lennon and sold the son of In The Pocket and Penny Lane at the sales for $68,000 to John and Anne Seaton, Tim Vance and Jeanine Browne.

Bates, aged 52, raced his first horse when he was 18, and did it in his mother's name because at that time an owner had to be 21. Hammar has not been in the game 35 years like Bates has, but after 20 years he also has a substantial portfolio. Penny Lane, the dam of Lennon, has since left two fillies, who will not be sold. "One is a Fake Left yearling who is big and will need time," said Bates. "The weanling is by Presidential Ball, and she is identical to Lennon at the same age," he said.

But they will have three colts for next year's sales - a Soky's Atom from Paperback Writer, a Soky's Atom from Jacinta Bret, and an Armbro Operative from Westburn Belle. This year, they sold two colts by Fake Left, one from Westburn Belle for $21,000, and Alright On The Night's for $27,000. As part of the stake payout, Bates and Hammar received a vendor's bonus worth $3500.

While Lennon was amongst the top 2-year-olds this season, his claim to being the best became flakey when he was beaten into seventh behind Midfrew Tailormade the start before but was unlucky. To regain the prestige he had, Lennon had to put up a good fight and this he did. Blair Orange had him on the pace but in the open from the 800m. It was a tough battle from there, but Lennon was up to it.

Stablemate Born Again Christian, who also had some credibility to recover, produced a withering run to give Orange something to think about as they eased up. He missed by a nose, with the roughie V For, by Christian Cullen, finishing well for third. Classy Cullen blew his chances with an early gallop, while stablemate Likmesiah was checked and lost his chance when that occurred.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 14May03

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