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Lees' Emerging Warrior Following A Smart Path

By Ray Hickson

Trainer Kris Lees says it’s purely coincidence that the career of youngster Mandirigma is so far mirroring that of his former topliner Smart Melody – but he can see why it’s the first question he’s asked about the colt.

Trainer Kris Lees (pic: Steve Hart)

Mandirigma – ‘warrior’ in Filipino – debuted with an impressive win in a 900m maiden earlier this month and on Wednesday heads into the Headwater @ Vinery Handicap (1150m) on the Kensington track – the corresponding races in 2018 were won by Smart Melody.

Of course, Smart Melody went on to win her first five starts before finishing midfield in the Thousand Guineas last spring but died of colic not long after entering pre-training for her autumn campaign.

Clearly Lees doesn’t hold them in the same regard at the same stage but he says Mandirigma has earned his shot in a very competitive two-year-old city race.

“He’s thrown in a deep race but he’s ready for that level,’’ Lees said.

“He’s a progressive colt who will keep improving and it’s the right time of year to see where he’s at. I’m certain he’s at least up to metropolitan level.’’

What holds Mandirigma in good stead coming off a 900m maiden win is that it wasn’t won in the style of many such races. That is, he didn’t just jump onto the lead and cruise around.

He had to work for it.

The Punter’s Intelligence sectional data from his debut win shows Mandirigma ran the fastest last 600m of the day in 33.25 and did it after jumping on the back foot.

“He stepped a touch slow and had to come through the field,’’ Lees said.

“When you step slowly in a 900m at Newcastle you’ve got to be going all right to pick them up and win and he was strong through the line. The data out of the race looked good.

“He gives every indication he’s looking for further ground and he gets his chance at city level.’’

Mandirigma was a $6.50 chance with TAB on Tuesday morning with Group 3 placed filly Rotator the $2.25 favourite.

Lees admits he’s not sure how the Sebring colt will handle the heavy conditions on the Kensington track but he had no issue with a soft 5 on debut.

The Newcastle trainer is erring on the side of being somewhat confident Stella Sea Sun won’t have an issue on a heavy track in the Bradley Photographers Handicap (1300m).

The filly, $2.30 favourite, is yet to miss a place in seven starts and is back 100m after a close second to The Party Girl on the Randwick inner track on June 10.

Mandirigma wins on debut at Newcastle on June 8

“She’s a half-sister to Felines and she liked it. She’s a consistent filly who didn’t have a great deal of luck recently and I expect her to run well,’’ he said.

Felines of course famously bumped into Winx when the now retired champion was making her debut back in 2014.

And Lees has elected to forgo barrier one and run Lady Of Shalott in the Handicap (1550m) as she looks for a change of luck after a couple of recent third placings.

“I think the 1550m is probably the right distance, getting back on the inside in the other race (over 1400m) didn’t set up well for her,’’ he said.

Meanwhile, Lees said potential TAB Everest runner Graff is coming up nicely for the spring and is about to commence some fast work. Lees already has In Her Time safely locked away for the $14m feature.

All the fields, form and replays for Wednesday's Kensington meeting at Randwick

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