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Newcastle's Giant Killer Looms For Winx In George Ryder

While a boilover result isn’t predicted, Le Romain’s trainer Kris Lees is expecting a “first three” finish in Saturday’s $1m Group China Horse Club George Ryder Stakes (1500m) at Rosehill Gardens.

The Star Doncaster Mile co-favourite Le Romain winds up what has been a faultless preparation so far for the $3m feature at Royal Randwick on April 1, when he takes on superstar mare Winx in the weight-for-age feature. Understandably, Winx is a raging favorite for the Ryder as she seeks her 16th win on end, but nonetheless Lees is looking forward to the challenge.

“Naturally, I’m not going into Saturday’s race thinking we can beat Winx, though anything can happen in racing,” he said this morning.

“But I couldn’t be happier with the way Le Romain is progressing. It’s been a terrific preparation so far. I am expecting him to finish in the first three on Saturday, and the race will top him off for the Doncaster in another fortnight.”

Le Romain is unbeaten at two starts – both at Randwick - this campaign, shouldering 61kg first-up in the Group 3 Southern Cross Stakes (1200m) on February 13 and then ousting Chautauqua in a memorable finish to the Group 1 Canterbury Stakes (1300m) on heavy ground on March 4.

Winx, of course, is carrying all before her at present, but boilovers are nothing new to Le Romain. He upset her then stablemate, odds-on favorite Press Statement, in the Group 1 Randwick Guineas (1600m) 12 months ago.

Lees has taken advantage of international ace Ryan Moore’s presence at the Golden Slipper meeting by booking him for Zestful in the Group 3 Birthday Card Stakes (1200m). He also nominated the five-year-old mare for the Group 1 The Galaxy (1100m), but decided to keep her against her own sex.

Moore has ridden for Lees once previously, when he finished ninth on Powerline in Sure And Fast’s inaugural $400,000 Provincial Championships Final at Randwick in April, 2015: “He is one of the top five riders in the world; it’s great to be able to get him for one of our horses,” Lees said.

Zestful, a winner at five of her 12 starts, overcame difficulties to take the Group 3 Triscay Stakes (1200m) at Randwick on February 13 and then was a gallant third to Rocket Commander on a very heavy Randwick surface in the Group 3 Wenona Girl (1200m) on March 4.

Lees will rely on consistent mare Felines (Corey Brown) in The Galaxy as she attempts a maiden Group 1 success: “Felines ran well first-up, and is back to handicap conditions and drops 5kg,” Lees said. “With a bit of a luck from an awkward draw, she can be in the finish. I rate her a top 4 chance.”

Lees will start both Raido (Hugh Bowman) and Twist Tops (Schofield) in Saturday’s $150,000 third Provincial Championships Qualifier (1200m), moved from Gosford yesterday because of the wet weather. And he also plans to run first emergency The Wasp (Brenton Avdulla) if she secures a start.

Lees has already qualified Princess Posh for the April 8 final at Randwick, and there are further heats at Kembla Grange next Thursday and Broadmeadow (March 29).

Lees’s late father, legendary trainer Max, and Luskin Star last night were amongs inaugural inductees into the Newcastle & Hunter Racing Hall of Fame.

Max Lees prepared 20 Group 1 winners – including the 1977 2YO Triple Crown with Luskin star (Golden Slipper, Sires Produce and Champagne Stakes) – and was twice runner-up in the Sydney trainers’ premiership (1992-93 and 1993-94). He passed away in 2003.

Luskin Star, the colossal coal from the coalfields, was foaled in 1974 and won 13 of his 17 starts before being retired to stud.

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