Newcastle trainer Kris Lees will look to revive the careers of Melbourne Cup (3200m) runners Big Duke and Red Cardinal after they became the latest additions to his operation from the Victorian stables of Darren Weir.
The Australian Bloodstock-owned Red Cardinal and Big Duke joined Lees’ Hunter stables late last week. Dual group 1-winner Brave Smash had already transferred from Weir to Lees and was a half-length fourth in the CF Orr Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield on Saturday.
Weir, the Australian trainers’ premiership leader, did not contest charges relating to the discovery of illegal electrical devices known as jiggers in his home during a raid. He was disqualified for four years.
Hunter-based syndicators Australian Bloodstock had about 50 horses with Weir and have spread most of those among Victorian trainers to race for their many Melbourne clients.
However, Red Cardinal and Big Duke, who have Newcastle Jockey Club chairman Geoff Barnett among their ownership, have come to Lees.
Red Cardinal has raced in the past two Melbourne Cup, finishing 11th in 2017 and then last past the post in 2018 when he choked down. Big Duke was fourth in 2017 but struggled last preparation and did not go onto the Cup despite being eligible.
“They are a couple of nice stayers if we can get them back to anywhere near where they were,” Lees said.
“A change now may suit them, but they look in good order and they've arrived healthy.”
Both are nominated for the March 9 Australian Cup (2000m) at Flemington but Lees said campaigns in Sydney and Brisbane were more likely.
“They both like a bit of go out of the ground so we'll see where they end up,” he said.
Mr Garcia, a winner at Flemington over the 2017 Melbourne Cup carnival, is another Australian Bloodstock horse going to Lees.
Lees has his Ellalong Farm property, Brisbane satellite stable and 10 additional Newcastle Racecourse boxes, which were formerly used by now suspended trainer Ben Smith, to accommodate the additions.
Smith is set to face Racing NSW stewards on Thursday and Friday over charges relating to four of his horses returning elevated cobalt levels. Lees gained group 1-winners In Her Time and El Dorado Dreaming from Smith after a raid on his Newcastle stables and home last September.
Australian Bloodstock co-director Luke Murrell said a Sydney Cup campaign was more likely for Red Cardinal and Big Duke.
Murrell said Lees would also gain some of their best up-and-comers from Weir’s operation.
He said Moe Cup winner Sixties Groove was going to leading NSW trainer Chris Waller, while Plein Ciel, which won six of his first eight starts in Australia, was headed to the Anthony Freedman stables along with exciting Japanese prospect Danon Liberty. Victorian trainers Mick Price, Tony McEvoy and Phillip Stokes were also gaining Australian Bloodstock horses.