By Ray Hickson
Champion trainer Kris Lees says he hopes the Newcastle area embraces Saturday’s inaugural $1 million Pages Event Hire Hunter and the feature metropolitan status the meeting brings with it.
It’s been 19 years since the last time the racing focus was on Newcastle on a Saturday, made necessary by the Sydney Olympics, and on that occasion the Newcastle Cup was run.
Lees is a strong supporter the new meeting, which also includes the Group 3 Spring Stakes and the Max Lees Classic, and will have between two and five runners in The Hunter (1300m).
“I never thought we'd get a stand alone Saturday, we've got a stand alone Saturday and a race worth a million dollars,’’ Lees said.
“I think it will be well received. It's terrific for racing in general and especially for our area.
“And I'm sure whatever happens this Saturday it will be improved on again going forward.’’
Classy four-year-old Graff and multiple Group 1 winner Le Romain will head the Lees assault on The Hunter and he’s also entered Miss Fabulass, Invincible Gem and Tactical Advantage.
Graff hasn’t raced since he contested the three lead-ups to The Everest – the Concorde, The Shorts and the Premiere Stakes – and showed he’d freshened up well with a trial win at home last week.
And The Hunter came onto the radar for Le Romain after two below par runs in August, the seven-year-old proved he was on track running third in the Redzel Stakes (1300m) at Rosehill on November 2.
“You look at any feature race if you've got the right horse regardless of where it is,’’ Lees said.
“Timing wise it is suiting a couple of horses for various reasons. Le Romain we backed off because I wasn't happy with his first couple of runs and he returned in good order the other day.
“It was similar with Graff, we backed off and reset for this race. It suits well where they are at in their preparations.’’
Among the 26 nominations for the Hunter are local gallopers Bon Amis (Jason Deamer) and Jonker (David Atkins), Godolphin has entered Home Of The Brave, Savatiano and Manicure, inaugural Kosciuszko winner Belflyer is there and Provincial Championships winner Bobbing while Chris Waller has Fiesta aimed at the race.
What youngsters Lees sends to the Max Lees Classic (900m) will be determined after he assesses how a few triallers pull up from going around on Monday.
They are Redoute’s Image, a filly from the Typhoon Tracy family, who won a Newcastle trial on Monday with stablemate Chianti fourth and two more fillies in Zeftabrook and Meydan Lass who ran one-two in the following 800m trial.
Meanwhile, Lees said In Her Time has come through her third placing in the Darley Classic on Saturday in good shape and will head to Hong Kong if she receives an invitation.
The Hunter is the first of two feature spring race days held in provincial areas to be followed by the inaugural $1 million The Gong (1600m) at Kembla Grange on November 23.