Newcastle Cup: Lees keen to respond with breakthrough win at home

Kris Lees doesn’t let too much bother him.

RELAXED: Kris Lees, centre, enjoys a laugh with Darren Forward and jockey Tim Clark at a sportsman's lunch on Thursday at The Premier Hotel. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

RELAXED: Kris Lees, centre, enjoys a laugh with Darren Forward and jockey Tim Clark at a sportsman's lunch on Thursday at The Premier Hotel. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

And coming off his greatest season, the understated Newcastle trainer hasn’t had much to complain about anyway.

At Newcastle Cup time, though, he could be forgiven for getting sick of the inevitable question: “Is this the year?”

Lees has had placings with My Tally (2003), County Tyrone (2004 and 2008), Exinite (2006) and Rio Perdido (2015) but is yet to win the group 3 Newcastle Cup (2300m), a trophy which also eluded another champion local trainer, his late father, Max.

On Friday, the Lees stable has Wahng Wah, Admiral Jello and Doukhan in the nine-horse field for the Newcastle Jockey Club’s feature $175,000 spring carnival event.

“I don’t dwell on it too much,” Lees said of the Cup drought. “In some ways it’s just another race, but of course it’s your home Cup, so you’d like to win it one year.”

Lees’ trio and the Paul Perry-trained The Getaway will carry Newcastle hopes in the Cup but visiting trainers Darren Weir (Pacodali), Chris Waller (Sayed) and Joe Pride (Destiny’s Kiss) have the leading chances.

Lees believed Admiral Jello, which has run top four in his past 10 starts and won over 2400m at Randwick in January, was his best hope.

“They are chances in an open race,” Lees said. “I don’t think it’s a standout Cup field by any means and I think all of my three runners have legitimate place chances.

“Admiral Jello’s my best because he’s got a significant weight drop. It's the race we’ve targetted the whole preparation for him.

“Whether or not he’s got the class for this quality of race, we’ll see.”

Corey Brown has the ride on Admiral Jello. 

Lees said five-year-old mare Wahng Wah, which has won from 1100 to 1800 metres, was his surprise packet. Her longest race was her last start over 2000m, where she was second ahead of her Cup stablemates. 

“She’s getting out to a trip and she’s been up a long time, so she’s probably surprised me how well she’s going,” he said.

“It doesn’t look like they will go that quick but she won’t be far off them and she can rattle off good sectionals.

“She would be suited by a tempo but it mightn’t matter.

“Doukhan finished behind those two first-up and he might need a run, but he’s certainly a dour stayer who could figure in the prizemoney.” 

Rachel King retains the ride on Wahng Wah and Brenton Avdulla is on Doukhan.

Lees expected Pacodali and Sayed to be hardest to beat but was not discounting Pride’s Wyong Cup winner.

“Destiny’s Kiss, now we’ve got a bit of cut in the ground with a bit of rain, it probably enhances his chances,” he said.

Perry, meanwhile, is also chasing his first Newcastle Cup win and believes The Getaway is an each-way chance based on his strong finish for second in the Wyong Cup last start.

“It’s the same form for most of the field, probably half were in that race,” Perry said. “This will be a tougher race, with a bigger track and things like that, but he’s got a good each-way chance all the same.”

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