AFTER everything Artlee and Dal Cielo have been through, Newcastle trainer Kris Lees will be glad just to see both come through their return runs safely at Warwick Farm on Saturday.
Lees, though, believes either could easily win the benchmark 95 Sledmere Stud Dash (1000 metres) in their comeback from “life-saving surgery”.
Artlee, the 2015 Country Championships and Luskin Star Stakes winner with Muswellbrook trainer Todd Willan, has not raced since the Stradbroke Handicap in June 2016.
Leg injuries stalled the now seven-year-old’s career before he was due to debut for Lees late last year after trial wins in July and August. However, a colic attack from a displaced colon required emergency surgery and wrote off his spring campaign.
Dal Cielo, a group 1 winner in New Zealand, was also missing in the spring after a last-start second in the group 3 Star Kingdom Stakes last March. After a trial win in May, Dal Cielo, now five years old, severely damaged a hind leg and also needed surgery.
Artlee has won both trials and Dal Cielo one of three since the operations.
Dal Cielo ($5) and Artlee ($6.50) were well in the TAB Fixed Odds market and Lees was keen to see both return.
“I suppose in some ways they both had life-saving surgery,” Lees said. “Dal Cielo kicked out at a fence coming out of the pool and made a mess of his hind leg, but he’s healed up well.
“Artlee’s had a few issues but I think he’s a very, very good horse and it’s good to get him back racing.”
As for their chances Saturday, Lees said: “Artlee has trialled really well. He’s not a 1000-metre horse but he could easily show up fresh.
“He’s a long time off so you just want to see him back and we’ll just see where he takes us.
“Dal Cielo will be hard to beat because he’s a proven 1000-metre horse but I expect both will run well.”
Lees will also resume Danish Twist in the group 2 Breeders Classic (1200m).
The six-year-old mare has not won since taking out the 2016 June Stakes but has placed twice at group level and has drawn gate one for Saturday.
“She shouldn’t be far away and will take up a nice spot from that gate and give herself a chance in a small field,” he said.
The Lees-trained Sunreel will feature in the $250,000 Inglis Classic in a big day for Hunter syndicators Australian Bloodstock (AB).
“She’s got a chance in a very open race, and she’s in good order and will run well,” Lees said of the filly which has finished second at Wyong and Newcastle at her only starts.
“There’s plenty in the race who can’t win, and she’s certainly not one of them.”
At Caulfield, AB has the Darren Weir-trained Tosen Stardom and Brave Smash clashing in the group 1 C.F Orr Stakes (1400m).
AB director Luke Murrell said Tosen Stardom was the better chance but “the barrier draw  really stuffs us, I think. If he had drawn well, he was nearly a good thing.”
Tosen Stardom resumes after starring last spring with group 1 wins in the Toorak Handicap and Mackinnon Stakes.
“Tosen Stardom is the better racehorse at this stage, Brave Smash is still a bit of a kid,” Murrell said.
“He doesn’t know what he’s doing even though he’s had a few starts.
“This is short of Tosen Stardom’s best, he wants 2000, but he’s such a good horse.”
Brave Smash, another Japanese import, was third in inaugural $10 million The Everest and resumed with fifth with Craig Williams aboard in the group 2 Australia Stakes two weeks ago.
“He was bloody hopeless,” Murrell said of the latest run.
“We were expecting a lot more than that but Darren said he was surprised with how big he looked in the mounting yard, and Craig said the same thing, that he just ran out of puff and to forget about it.
“He said he was very keen with the blinkers, so they’ve come back off and we’ll just ride him a bit further back and ride him to hit the line.
“His main race is the Futurity in two weeks. He’s good enough to win but will probably need one more run.”
As for Sunreel at Warwick Farm, Murrell said: “I reckon she’ll run top four.”
“She’s got a bit of experience now. The seven-day back up and first prep might be a question mark but she’s wanted that distance, being by Dundeel.”