Champion Newcastle trainer Kris Lees needs just one winner to record his 2000th career success – and it could come at the Randwick Kensington meeting on Saturday.
Lees had a chance to bring up the magical milestone at Taree on Friday but Dream Song was beaten as favourite into third placing.
But armed with a strong nine-horse team across six races at Kensington, Lees has a very real opportunity to bring up his 2000th winner – an outstanding achievement as he only took over the Broadmeadow training operation following the death of his father, legendary trainer Max Lees, in 2003.
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Trainer Kris Lees is one win away from a magic milestone. Picture: Aaron FrancisSource:News Corp Australia
Lees admitted he didn’t have any plans to take on a training role at the time but the tragedy resulted in the immediate transition.
“I thought I was ready for the role but it certainly wasn’t easy,’’ Lees said. “But like I’ve always said I’ve had good people around me, we got on with things and made it work.’’
Lees revealed there has been and opportunities to relocate the training business to Sydney, the most recent was just six years ago, but he has found no reason to move from home base.
“A couple of times the idea to move has crossed my mind but Newcastle is an easy drive to Sydney now and we have wonderful training facilities at Broadmeadow,’’ Lees said.
Lees has had tremendous success out of Newcastle over the 17 years since, preparing the winners of 15 Group 1 races and over $80 million prizemoney.
His highlights include a breakthrough Group 1 win with Country Tyrone in the 2004 The Metropolitan, preparing champion filly Samantha Miss to win three majors including the 2008 Victoria Oaks and Lucia Valentina’s brilliant 2016 Queen Elizabeth Stakes success.
So, can Lees add another chapter to his success story at the Kensington meeting on Saturday?
Among the stable’s best chances is the flying mare Witherspoon, who is chasing her third consecutive win when she lines up in the TAB Live Vision Handicap (1000m).
Witherspoon has shown dazzling speed to lead throughout over the Randwick 1000m course at her last two wins but she could be challenged up front by the likes of Spaceboy and Rosina Kojonup.
Witherspoon will be chasing her third straight win on Saturday. Picture: AAPSource:AAP
“It’s a fast race,’’ Lees said. “There will be a bit of pressure on her this time but we know how we need to ride her.
“She has drawn towards the outside but that might be the right draw as we can take our time to get her into stride and get across. She’s going well but this is a good test for her.’’
The Lees stable has three chances in the Quincy Selzer Handicap (1800m) – last start McKell Cup winner Frankely Awesome, High Opinion and Mawaany Machine.
“Frankely Awesome has a bit of weight but she’s got the class,’’ Lees said. “She is coming back in trip which is not ideal but if it’s a testing track she will appreciate that.
“High Opinion is a tough, older horse racing well on these heavy tracks and we have freshened Mawaany Machine so he could run a bold race.’’
Lees felt Chalmers was “over the odds” in the Heineken 3 Handicap (1550m) and Killin can be competitive in the De Bortoli Wines Handicap (1100m).
“Chalmers is definitely a good each way hope,’’ the trainer said. “The soft draw, wet track, no weight — he’s a cheeky chance.
“Killin has come back a better horse now he has been gelded. He won very easily first-up, he has a bit of upside about him, but this is a good test for him.’’
Lees will also saddle up Itz Lily and Azarmin in the Schweppes Handicap (1800m).
“This is a competitive race and Itz Lily will need luck from the draw but she could easily bounce back,’’ Lees said. “Azarmin is a rough chance.’’
BAKER FINISHING FAST
Bjorn Baker is closing in on a career-best top three finish to the Sydney trainers’ premiership this season.
With four city meetings including today’s Randwick Kensington program remaining for the 2019-20 season, Baker has trained 54 metropolitan winners and is only one win behind the Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott stable.
Chris Waller has secured his 10th consecutive title with 133.5 wins.
“I’m aiming to get to third on the rankings,’’ Baker said. “I might be aiming too high but the stable is going well and we are finishing the season off very strongly.’’
Baker has a strong representation at the Kensington meeting with chances in six races including Kiss The Bride in the Schweppes Handicap (1800m). Kiss The Bride is third-up from a spell and indicated he was near winning form when a close third to Agassi over 1600m at Randwick two weeks ago.
Bjorn Baker wants to finish in the top three in the Sydney trainer’s premiership. Picture: AAPSource:AAP
“I thought it was an excellent run by Kiss The Bride last start,’’ Baker said.
“Even though it was a small field he had to get right back then get going early.
“He loomed up to win but might have just peaked on his run late.
“But his work has been really good since and now he is up to 1800m it suits him as he’s better beyond the mile. Nash (Rawiller) riding is a bonus too.’’
The Baker-trained Matowatakpe scored well at the Warwick Farm midweeks last start and is topweight for the De Bortoli Wines Handicap (1100m).
“Matowatakpe produced a great effort to win at Warwick Farm last start and he is a genuine, consistent horse,’’ Baker said.
“He’s coming back from 1300m to 1100m but he looked to get through the soft track conditions easily last start so if we a heavy Kensington track won’t pose him any issues. He’s fit and that will stand him in good stead.’’
Rosina Kojonup, the half-sister to Golden Slipper winner She Will Reign and Silver Slipper winner Time To Reign, finally makes her comeback to racing in the TAB Live Vision Handicap (1000m). A winner of two of her only four starts, Rosina Kojonup hasn’t raced for 19 months as she recovered from knee surgery.
Nash Rawiller has the ride on Kiss The Bride. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
“Rosina Kojonup’s had a long time out with a bone chip in her knee but she is in great order now and definitely fit enough to resume,’’ Baker said.
“She is very fast, she has a heap of ability, and her recent barrier trial was scintillating.
“She is extremely fast out of the gates and from barrier one she can just roll forward and get into the race with no weight. I’m just mindful if the track is very heavy because that makes it a bit more demanding for her.’’
Baker’s other runners are Spencer (Sky Racing Active Handicap, 1400m), Pressure (Ranvet Handicap, 1400m), and Boomtown Rat (Heineken 3 Handicap, 1550m).
“Spencer didn’t fire at all last start but since that run, he has looked good in the coat and his trackwork has pleased me,’’ Baker said. “He is probably going to get a nice run and is not out of this race.
“Pressure is a nice, staying-type mare but will be better over further. She has only had one trial and is at 1400m first-up so we will ride her conservatively and if she can finish off well, we will be happy and can move forward with confidence.
“Boomtown Rat scored a determined win last start you can’t knock winning form. Outside of the favourite (Le Gai Soleil) this is an even race. He’s fit and well and should get the right run.’’
Originally published asCareer high: Lees eyes magic milestone
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