BUOYED by a group 3 double with Karavali and Sugar Bella, Newcastle trainer Kris Lees will likely take on superstar Winx with Clearly Innocent and Invincible Gem in the $1 million George Ryder Stakes on March 24.
Lees scored wins at Randwick on Saturday with four-year-old mares, both ridden by Jason Collett, while Invincible Gem was third and Clearly Innocent sixth in the Canterbury Stakes (1300m) won by Happy Clapper.
While Lees was weighing up bigger races for his winning pair, he was encouraged by the runs of Invincible Gem and Clearly Innocent heading to the $3 million Doncaster Mile on April 7.
Clearly Innocent was an early favourite for the Canterbury Stakes but his price grew as the track firmed. He came from well back in the field and was doing his best work late, while Invincible Gem was impressive on return from colic surgery.
“Both pulled up well,” Lees said on Saturday.
“It was probably not his style of track now, for Clearly Innocent, when they are running that kind of time. He needs dead to slow for him to get to that level, to get into the race. But I thought the mare was terrific first-up from a long break.”
Lees said both would probably head to the George Ryder, although Clearly Innocent could instead back up in the Ajax Stakes alongside stablemate Prized Icon next Saturday at Rosehill.
“We’re going to get into the Doncaster hopefully and he looks like he’s looking for the mile,” Lees said of Clearly Innocent on Sunday. “Invincible Gem possibly takes a similar path.
“I’d probably rather have none in [the George Ryder], to be honest, taking her on, but it’s just that it’s two weeks before the Doncaster.”
In a thrilling blanket finish, Karavali comes from back in the field with all the late speed to nail them on the post and take out the Group 3 Aspiriation Quality for @Leesracing. What a way to kick off @royalrandwick Guineas Day!! pic.twitter.com/L529p2eJSU— Sky Racing (@SkyRacingAU) March 10, 2018
As for Sugar Bella, Lees said on Saturday that the group 1 Queen Of The Turf (1600m) on April 14 shaped as a possible target after her amazing run in the Wenona Girl Quality (1200m).
Last approaching the 300m mark, Sugar Bella rocketed home to beat Miss Que by a short head.
“I give up on her after 100 metres when she was that far out of her ground,” Lees said. “She was really strong late. It was a terrific win. She’s got an electric turn of foot.”
Lees said next Saturday’s Coolmore Classic, where he has Danish Twist, Aide Memoire and Just Dreaming entered, was too soon for Sugar Bella “but there’s plenty of races for her”.
”I think she’s capable of getting to a higher level,” he said. “She’s won a group 3 now and I think she can race better again.”
Earlier, Karavali won the Aspiration Quality (1600m) by a head. Like Sugar Bella, Karavali was debuting at black-type level in Australia. She will now head to the group 3 Epona Stakes (1900m) in a fortnight.
"She's come back in really good order and it's nice to get some black-type," Lees said.
Lees’ Bastia made the Provincial Championships decider with third in the Hawkesbury qualifier on Saturday won by the Kim Waugh-trained Uptown Lad. Newcastle trainer David Atkins’ Plaisir was a close second to also qualify.