Trainer Kris Lees has a strong hand in the Group One Newmarket Handicap at Flemington.
Kris Lees has two dual Group One winners in the Newmarket Handicap but it’s a colt he considers a Group One winner in-waiting he believes could be best-placed at the weights in the time-honoured Flemington sprint.
Lees has last-start Lightning Stakes winner In Her Time, dual weight-for-age Group One winner Brave Smash and impressive three-year-old colt Graff in the near capacity field for Saturday’s $1.25 million sprint.
Graff was beaten just under a length when fourth to In Her Time in the Group One Lightning (1000m) at Flemington on February 16 but meets her 3.5kg better with 51kg.
In Her Time has 55.5kg while last year’s runner-up Brave Smash has half a kilo more this year with 57kg, coming in off a luckless seventh in his defence of the Futurity Stakes.
“Graff is the one of my three that’s probably in pretty well,” Lees said.
“The other two have got their right weight, I’d suggest, but Graff is in quite well.”
For that reason, Lees indicated he would lean slightly to him as his leading chance.
“But only just,” he said.
“You can’t deny In Her Time anything. She will carry her weight and it won’t be an issue for her. Graff just meets her better at the weights.
“And Brave Smash was unlucky the other day in the Futurity and I think if he gets exposed late and gets the right run he could really let fly at them. I reckon he’s ready to run a top race.
“I think they are getting there as good as they can be but it’s a very open race. A good race.
“It’s an old-school Newmarket.”
The field of 23 will be reduced to 22 with Shoals to instead run in Saturday’s Canterbury Stakes in Sydney.
Having his third attempt at Group One level, Graff was second favourite on Wednesday at $8.50 behind Lightning runner-up Osborne Bulls ($4.60).
“He certainly gets his chance,” Lees said.
“It’s not going to be his last chance but he ran super in the Golden Rose and was a bit luckless. He was really good again in the Lightning.
“He’s a Group One winner in waiting. Whether it’s Saturday, we’ll see.”
The Canterbury Stakes (1300m) at Randwick had been on the radar for Brave Smash but his owners who include Aquis Farm and Australian Bloodstock, decided to keep him in Melbourne for the Newmarket.
“Connections had a review of things, and he is a stallion,” Lees said.
“Although both are Group Ones the Newmarket is probably a more attractive option, a time-honoured event to have on his CV. And he was already in Melbourne.”
Brave Smash is in line to travel to Dubai on Monday week for the Al Quoz Sprint on March 30.
“At this stage he will go, all being well,” Lees said.