Trainer Kris Lees continues to set new standards. In what is already a remarkable season – and it’s only just halfway through – Lees at Royal Randwick on Monday clinched a first time Group treble, and in the process made it six weekends in a row that he has prepared at least one Sydney winner.
Monday’s Apollo Stakes fixture was scheduled for last Saturday but postponed because of the excessive heat. And his weekend metropolitan sequence – which began with Dal Cielo’s Warwick Farm victory on January 7 – could be stretched to seven this Saturday with consistent Olympic Academy lining up in the Listed Parramatta Cup (1900m).
In-form sprinter Dal Cielo, who began Lees’s Saturday streak in scoring at Warwick Farm on January 7, has also been nominated for the Benchmark 93 Handicap (1100m), but won’t run.
Lees’s victories on Monday with Le Romain (Southern Cross Stakes, 1200m), Invincible Gem (NJC Spring Stakes, 1600m) and Zestful (Triscay Stakes, 1200m) – all Group 3 features – came on top of a Port Macquarie treble (with his only runners) last Saturday.
The six-winner haul lifted his tally for the season to 78, providing him with a wonderful base to surpass his best season of 120 winners in 2014-15. He has now won nine black type races in 2016-17; Le Romain won the Group 1 Cantala Stakes at Flemington last spring and there has been another Group 2 along with four Group 3s and three Listed races. Lees, understandably, is delighted with the way the stable is performing.
“I’ve won a Group 1 and a Group 2 before, but three Group 3 races on the same program is a first for us,” he said. “It’s very satisfying, and it’s great for our owners as well, especially winning these black type races with Invincible Gem and Zestful to boost their value as broodmares later on.”
Dual Group 1 winner Le Romain is headed for a clash with superstar Winx on his way to the $3m The Star Doncaster Mile at Royal Randwick on April 8 during The Championships. That will be in the $1m Group 1 George Ryder Stakes (1500m) at Rosehill on March 18.
“It can’t be avoided,” Lees said. “That will be Le Romain’s final lead-up to the Doncaster.”
The four-year-old, who shouldered 61kg first-up on Monday, will start next in the $500,000 Group 1 Canterbury Stakes (1300m) at Randwick on March 4. Lees is seriously considering starting impressive Spring Stakes winner Invincible Gem in the $1m Royal Randwick Guineas (1600m) the same day.
“When she came back into work as a maiden, I never thought she would emerge as a Group winner,” he said. “But she keeps taking the next step. It’s tempting to keep her going when she is in such great form.”
Invincible Gem became only the third filly to win Newcastle Jockey Club’s prestigious event for three-year-olds. Lotteria (the following year was runner-up to Makybe Diva in the Cox Plate) was the first in 2004, and Lovemelikearock scored in 2009.
Zestful’s Triscay Stakes success also gained her valuable black type, but ended Lees’s hopes of having another crack at the Provincial Championships series with her (she ran fourth to stablemate Danish Twist in last year’s $400,000 Final).
“She is now ineligible, but has always been a Group mare in waiting, so it was good to see her achieve that yesterday,” he said. “We’ll run her in another Stakes race (1200m Group 3 Wenona Girl Quality on the same program as the Canterbury Stakes and Randwick Guineas) in three weeks.”