Kris Lees’s $500,000 Polytrack Provincial Championship Final runners have been boosted to seven at Royal Randwick on Saturday – almost half the field of 15.
And while he agrees with market assessors who have posted Wyong heat winner Just Dreaming (Hugh Bowman) as $3.60 TAB's favourite, he is adamant his Newcastle heat winner Princess Posh (Damien Oliver, $14) and roughie Kool Vinnie (Glyn Schofield, $51) are not to be overlooked.
First emergency Hallelujah Bay has gained a start following the withdrawal of Kembla Grange-trained Can’t Find Snippy, who is unfit to run due to a recurring foot abscess.
“Just Dreaming was my pick of our team before the barrier draw and, despite her sticky gate, I’m not going to change my thoughts,” Lees said.
“She is the best-performed horse in the race with clearly the highest benchmark rating (94), and I can’t fault her condition. With even luck from the draw (12 out of 15), I’m sure she will be hard to beat.”
Just Dreaming underlined her Provincial Championships Final prospects by sweeping around the field to win the opening $150,000 qualifier (1350m) at Wyong on March 3. She then ran an excellent seventh in Group 1 company when only a length from winner Daysee Doom in the Coolmore Classic (1500m) at Rosehill Gardens a fortnight later; her benchmark rating being lifted four points as a result.
“Princess Posh went terrific first-up winning the last qualifier at home (March 31), and has trained on strongly,” Lees said. “She has a soft draw and should get a soft run. With only 54kg, she is definitely a genuine chance.”
Oliver won the 2016 Final on another mare, Danish Twist, for Lees when he qualified eight of the 15 runners. Lees also regards Kool Vinnie as being over the odds at his current $51.
“You could make a case that he should have won the Wyong heat (fourth to Just Dreaming), was right out of luck at Kembla Grange and then hit the line well when third to Princess Posh at home. He won’t be affected by the wide draw as he will get back amongst the last few, and will be suited by a fast tempo.”
With so many runners, Lees will talk tactics on the phone with a number of his jockeys today and then will see the remainder trackside on Saturday: “I don’t have a runner in the race before the Provincial Final, so I will be able to chat with the remainder of our riders then,” he said.
These are his thoughts on his other Final representatives:
BASTIA (Kerrin McEvoy, $34): “Would have preferred a wet track for him, but performs well fresh and is in good order.”
TAWFIQ BOY (Josh Parr, $34): “Has earned his place in the field, and is very honest. Not sure though that he has the quality to beat this field.”
SERENE MISS (Jason Collett, $7.50): “Top quality mare who is on trial at the 1400m. Going to need everything to go her way from the bad gate, but too good to dismiss.”
HALLELUJAH BOY (TBA, $34): “Probably looking for 1600m now, and is another who will get out the back and be suited if they run along.”
Lees’s third reserve Waimea Bay will join her seven stablemates if she sneaks into the field, but most likely will line up instead in the Listed South Pacific Classic (1400m), with Glyn Schofield aboard.
“Under the conditions of the Provincial Championships, she has to run if she gets a start,” Lees pointed out. “In the unlikely event that happens, I’m sure she will run well in the opening race. She is fit and in good order and has come up with an inside draw.”