The long road is no barrier to this North Qld trainer

\"\"Caption: Trainer Lee Stokes with his promising  sprinter Nudge Bar after a recent Townsville victory (Photo: Louise Partland)

By MIKE HILL

LEE Stokes says he is enjoying being a hobby trainer, despite his \’isolation\’ in Far North Queensland.

And it\’s just as well.

He\’s the most northern-based trainer in the state and arguably the most travelled greyhound entity in the country.

\”I don\’t know of any trainer further north than us,\” Stokes said last month.

And he was supported by Queensland Greyhound Racing manager Doug Lutherborrow, who said: \”Yes, I believe he is the most northerly based trainer in Queensland.\”

It takes the 67-year-old retiree seven hours to drive from his base at Julatten on the edge of the Atherton Tablelands to meetings in Townsville.

\”My wife and I and the dogs leave home at 9am on race days and after a couple of stops we get to Townsville around 4pm,\” said Stokes, who has only had his trainer\’s licence for about 18 months.

\”We stay the night in a motel in Townsville and then drive home the following morning.

\”I only have a couple of average dogs in work but I\’m enjoying it.\”

Lee and his wife Jan moved to Far North Queensland after Jan attended a conference in Cairns a few years back.

\”At the time, we were operating a motel in Adelaide,\” said Stokes. \”During the  visit we did some sight-seeing, including driving to Port Douglas.

“I said \’this is where I want to live\’.

\”We returned to Adelaide and within a year we had sold the motel, and after packing up we were heading north again.\”

They settled on a five-acre property at Julatten in the hinterland region behind Port Douglas.

\”It\’s a small community … we have a school and a service station,\” he said.

\”We are living in the rainforest over-looking a lake.\”

In his younger years, Stokes dabbled in greyhounds with a mate.

\”We were both police dog handlers in the RAAF and having a love for dogs we bought a couple of greyhounds,\” he said.

\”We didn\’t have much success and got out fairly quickly.\”

But the experience sparked a desire in Stokes that perhaps one day \’I would like to get back into the sport\’.

\”After moving to Julatten we went to the Cairns races one day,\” he said. (At the time the Cairns greyhound club raced at the Cannon Park complex inside the racecourse.)

\”I saw some greyhound starting boxes and made a few inquiries.

\”I got involved with some wonderful people from the Cairns club, Emma Bryant and Arthur Gosper.

\”They helped and guided me so much.

\”Unfortunately the club closed down soon after and I had to make a decision – get out or push on.\”

He decided to keep going but It meant he had to make the long journey to Townsville to race his dogs.

Stokes said the travel subsidy offered by Racing Queensland \’made it possible to stay in the sport\’.

\”Without it I don\’t think I could continue,\” he said.

A leading RQ official said: \”We\’re happy the trainers appreciate it.\”

Stokes\’ two greyhounds – Nudge Bar and Sure Moment – have been picking up their share of prizemoney in recent months.

\”Nudge Bar has just turned two and he\’s going well,\” the trainer said.

\”He\’s really enjoying his racing.\”

Nudge Bar was successful in a Townsville fifth grade over 380m mid-December and backed it up with another victory over the same distance a fortnight later, taking his tally to four wins from 15 starts for Stokes since arriving from the Brisbane region in July.

The Fernando Bale-Classy Sahara light brindle dog has also picked up five placings in that time.

\”Sure Moment is almost five. She still loves racing and she\’ll tell me when she\’s had enough,\” the trainer said.

Stokes echoed what several other northern trainers have been saying: \”It\’s not easy to win a race at Townsville.\”

He said new dogs were coming to the region all the time.

And then last month, in his best night ever, he rugged up his first winning double with Sure Moment successful over 498m and Nudge Bar winning a 380m fourth grade.

The dual success proved most timely for Stokes.

\”We were forced to stay an extra few days in Townsville because of heavy rain and flooding,\” the trainer said.

\”After we arrived in Townsville for the meeting on Tuesday night, the highway was cut by flood waters between Ingham and Cardwell.

\”We had to stay an extra two nights at the motel and we finally arrived home on Friday afternoon.

\”Luckily I landed the double. It helped to pay for the extra nights at the motel.

\”We\’re missing next week\’s meeting. I need the rest.\”

FOOTNOTE: After the Cairns club was forced to close its doors in late 2018, RQ introduced a $150-a-meeting travel subsidy for trainers north of Innisfail. The subsidy has currently been extended until June 30, 2021.

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