With three runners in the Everest and three group 1 chances in Melbourne leading the way, Kris Lees has the chance to secure an amazing $11,685,500 in prizemoney across two meetings on Saturday.
The Newcastle trainer’s Everest chances – Graff, Le Romain and In Her Time – alone could themselves earn $9.3 million with a trifecta in the world’s richest race on turf at Randwick.
And with trainers’ traditionally taking a 10 per cent cut, Saturday could be a million dollar payday for Lees.
“You don’t count your money when you’re sitting at the table,” Lees quips when the potential winnings are floated. “It’s a big day but it’s a big day for every person who’s got a runner in the Everest. It’s a new ball game and it’s great to be part of it.”
The fact, though, that Lees has so many seats at the $13 million Everest table is a remarkable story in itself, especially when he had no runners a month ago.
In Her Time, already with a slot in the Everest, was transferred to his stables after the suspension of Newcastle trainer Ben Smith on September 12. Three-time group 1 winner Le Romain and three-year-old colt Graff were then injury replacements in the 12-horse, 1200-metre race with slot-holders GPI Racing and the partnership of Max Whitby and Neil Werrett.
The success of Lees’ growing stable, fifth in the Australian premiership with 191.5 winners last season, has placed it front and centre on the sport’s biggest stage.
“To get horses in the Everest, you’ve got to negotiate and talk to slot-holders and it’s great that slot-holders show confidence in what we have for them and they’ve taken up the positions,” Lees said.
“I think we’ve been competing at a high level for a while, but it just comes down to opportunity and having the right cattle and making sure they progress the right way to get to these better races.
“It’s what we work for, to compete at the best level, so it’s a reward for the staff, all the work they put in that we are there now competing on these days.”
Although confident his trio will run well in the Everest, Lees knows having a quarter of the field doesn’t guarantee success. Asked this week about having a photo taken with the Everest trophy, Lees politely declined.
“I don’t like even touching trophies before a race. It just doesn’t sit right … I’ll have one Sunday with it,” he quipped.
While In Her Time ($15), Le Romain ($18) and Graff ($18) were Everest outsiders with TAB Fixed Odds on Friday, Lees’ unbeaten filly Smart Melody ($2.60) and El Dorado Dreaming ($7) were leading hopes for the group 1 $500,000 Thousand Guineas (1600m) at Caulfield. He also has Gem Song ($14) in the $2 million Caulfield Guineas (1600m).
Also at Randwick, he has Doukhan in the group 3 Craven Plate, Tactical Advantage and Clearly Innocent in the $500,000 Everest consolation the Sydney Stakes, Evalina in the listed Reginald Allen Quality and Sense Of Occasion in the Star Mile.
Lees, a 14-time group 1-winning trainer, said having three Everest contenders made Saturday extra special.
“I’ve had three runners in group 1 races before, but the Everest is a new ball game,” he said. “And to have two lives chances in a group 1 in Melbourne on the same day, it’s a good time.”
Lees was happy with the preparations of his Everest trio, which had the advantage of working on the sand-based Newcastle course proper this week in the rain-affected build up.
“I don’t think there’s anything between the three of them,” he said.
“The barrier draw will play its part, and the track conditions, and just how they are in themselves.
“In Her Time has probably got the best 1200-metre record of the three of them, but Le Romain is a multiple group winner at 1200, and Graff is an exciting up and comer.”