Newcastle Newmarket: Topweights opt for Canterbury Stakes as Kris Lees leaves door open for Artlee

CLEARLY Innocent won’t be running in the Newcastle Newmarket Handicap (1400m) on Friday but three-time group 1 winner Le Romain could make an appearance at the meeting.

Premier Newcastle trainer Kris Lees had three nominations for the $150,000 group 3 Newmarket but said on Tuesday that Clearly Innocent would instead head to the group 1 Canterbury Stakes (1300m) on Saturday at Randwick.

RETURNING: Kris Lees with three-time group 1 champion Le Romain. Picture: Marina Neil

RETURNING: Kris Lees with three-time group 1 champion Le Romain. Picture: Marina Neil

“That was always my preference, it was more just seeing what was in the field at Randwick. He’s an equal favourite there, so that shows he should be in it,” Lees said.

Clearly Innocent, a group 1 winner in the Kingsford Smith Cup last year, was given second topweight of 60.5 kilograms in the Newmarket on Tuesday behind defending champion Happy Clapper (62kg). However, trainer Pat Webster confirmed on Tuesday that Happy Clapper would also head to the Canterbury Stakes.

Lees also nominated Sound Proposition and Artlee for the Newmarket and said he would accept with both, however only Sound Proposition was a definite starter.

Lees made a late decision to enter Artlee, which has finished eighth in two runs back from more than 18 months out with injury. The seven-year-old’s most recent run was in the group 3 Liverpool City Cup last Saturday at Randwick and Lees was keeping options open.

“I think he’ll handle the back-up, and the other option is he’s nominated for Canberra on Sunday, so we’ll accept and have a look at how the field stacks up,” he said. “He’s improved with each run and he’s not far away, so he’ll be competitive.”

Sound Proposition will race first-up in the Newmarket. The New Zealand group 1 winner last raced in the group 2 Crystal Mile at Moonee Valley on October 28 and finished fourth. 

“The 1400 is short of his preferred distance but he just got run down fresh in the Cameron Handicap at 1500, so I think it looks a nice option for him,” Lees said.

Acceptances close for the Newmarket on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Le Romain could step out for an exhibition gallop between races at Friday’s meeting.  

Lees remains unsure of a return race for Le Romain, which is on the comeback from surgery to repair a twisted bowel, but said he might have a hit-out on Friday if the track was suitable.

Le Romain won the Canterbury Stakes last year and is being set for the All Aged Stakes this year.

At Randwick, Lees also has Invincible Gem, which is another on the comeback from colic surgery, in the Canterbury Stakes.

“I’d never dismiss her, but 1300 first-up off a long break, she’ll be a touch vulnerable,” Lees said. “But she’s a quality mare and she’s proven at weight for age level, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see her in the finish there.”

Singing pulled up with an issue last start but if he bounces back to his best, he’ll be competitive in the Randwick City Stakes.

Sugar Bella

favourite for Provincial Championships

might stay in stronger company.

AAP reports: Happy Clapper is once again on a path to run into Winx but his trainer doesn't see that as a negative.

Pat Webster's stable star begins his autumn campaign in Saturday's Group One Canterbury Stakes with a view to competing in his third Doncaster Mile.

Before the $3.5 million race, he is likely to take on the champion in the George Ryder Stakes and again in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes a week after the Doncaster.

"He won half a million dollars when he ran second to Winx in the Doncaster a couple of years ago," Webster said.

"We're happy to say hello to her again.

"He's running for good prize money and that's the main thing."

After another Doncaster second last year to It's Somewhat, Happy Clapper got his day in the sun in the spring when he won the Group One Epsom Handicap (1600m) at Randwick.

After a sixth in Winx's third Cox Plate, Happy Clapper earned another $360,000 for his second to Tosen Stardom in the Emirates Stakes at Flemington to take his prize money to more than $3.5 million.

He will be having his first start since the Emirates when he lines up on Saturday after two barrier trials, the latest a closing second to the speedy filly Houtzen.

"I'm very happy with him. His trials have been good and so has his work," Webster said.

"He's in a good place and so is his trainer.

"I just hope the rain stays away because he loves firm tracks."

Randwick was in the soft range on Tuesday with two days of fine weather forecast before further showers on Friday.

Happy Clapper was the $6 equal favourite with Clearly Innocent on Tuesday ahead of the declaration of the final field.

Three of the 13 nominations, So Si Bon, Thronum and Lord Of The Sky, are among the acceptances for the Newmarket Handicap at Flemington on Saturday.