Damien Oliver will be a new rider for Villiers Stakes winner Sense Of Occasion in Friday’s $150,000 Gosford Gold Cup (2100m).
The Group 3 event highlights a $575,000 program which also features another Group 3 event ($150,000 Belle of the Turf Stakes, 1600m) and Listed $125,000 Takeover Target Stakes (1200m).
Oliver’s fellow Melbourne jockey Ben Melham rode Sense Of Occasion when he produced a last-to-first burst to claim the $250,000 Group 2 Villiers (1600m) at Royal Randwick on December 17. However, he is unavailable for the Gosford meeting and Kris Lees has been able to secure Oliver’s services.
Left: Jockey Damien Oliver will again team up with trainer Kris Lees in Friday's Gosford Gold Cup
“A number of jockeys have commitments at the big Magic Millions ($10m prizemoney) meeting at the Gold Coast on Saturday, and aren’t keen to ride at Gosford the previous afternoon,” Lees said this morning. “I’m pleased to get Damien to come to Gosford. I will most likely have three runners at the meeting and he will ride all of them.”
Oliver won NSW’s richest race, the $4m Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m), on Lucia Valentina at last year’s The Championships at Royal Randwick for Lees.
Sense Of Occasion’s Villiers victory was his seventh from 29 starts and lifted his prizemoney earnings beyond $500,000.
Whilst Lees is thrilled with the six-year-old’s progress since the Villiers, he is uncertain whether to proceed with his current preparation beyond the Gosford race.
“I was planning to also run him in the Australia Day Cup (2400m) at Randwick on January 26, but he may get too much weight in that,” he said. “Probably, we’ll freshen him and have a crack at the Doncaster Mile seeing as though he has already been guaranteed a start.”
Sense Of Occasion’s Villiers win automatically made him exempt from ballot for the $3m The Star Doncaster Mile to be run over the same course on April 1.
Lees’s three weekend winners (Raido at Canterbury on Friday night, and Dal Cielo at Warwick Farm and Princess Posh on the Beaumont track) lifted him to 58 winners for the current season. He has not yet committed impressive Warwick Farm winner Dal Cielo to an autumn campaign, nor lightly-raced Princess Posh to a hit-and-run Melbourne trip.
“We’ll see what Dal Cielo’s rating now is and hopefully try and win another Benchmark race with him, and then we’ll have more of an idea about the autumn,” Lees said. “Obviously, if he continues to race well, we would have to seriously look at the better races. He has always had the ability, and it’s nice to see him get back into good form.”
Princess Posh, who broke her maiden status on the Beaumont track at only her second start, is eligible for the $250,000 Inglis Dash (1100m) at Flemington on January 28. “We’ll have a look at the likely field and decide whether to send her to Melbourne for the sales-restricted race,” he said.