Kris Lees said he will be “very surprised” if his unbeaten colt Graff isn’t competitive in his new season opener at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday.
The Star Witness three-year-old takes the first serious step on a Golden Rose Stakes path when he resumes in the $150,000 Group 3 San Domenico Stakes (1100m). And while it will be the first time Graff races in blinkers, it isn’t the first time he has been scheduled to do so.
“I put them on him for the Sires' Produce Stakes at Doomben in May, but he was a late scratching at the start when there was a barrier incident,” Lees explained. “The reason I did that was that he got off the bridle at a vital stage before he won the Clarendon Stakes at Hawkesbury’s stand-alone meeting in late April.
“I’m sure the blinkers will help him focus better. There’s no doubt Graff is going to appreciate longer than Saturday’s 1100m, but I’m very happy with his progress.
“He trialled strongly at Gosford earlier in the month, and should get a nice run from his inside draw. I’ll be very surprised if he isn’t competitive.”
Lees is aiming Graff at the $1m Group 1 Golden Rose (1400m) at Rosehill on September 22. His final lead-up will be in the $200,000 Group 2 The Run To The Rose (1200m) there as fortnight earlier.
Whereas Graff drew the coveted rails spot, Lees’s other Rosehill representative Upscale wasn’t so fortunate. She has to jump from near the outside in the Benchmark 78 Handicap (1100m) as her racing career draws to a close. Collett also partners Upscale, who has won four of her 15 starts – and two of those have been at Rosehill.
“She is going to need a bit of luck, but I’m hoping she can run well so that she can go to a stakes race (the 1200m Group 2 Sheraco Stakes) at Rosehill on September 8,” Lees said. “Some rain is forecast for Saturday, and that would certainly help her chances.”
Lees has three acceptors at his home track meeting – and all will run. Andrew Gibbons rides Moondancer (1400m Class 2 Handicap for colts, geldings and entires) and Vive Marie (1400m Class 2 Handicap for fillies and mares), and Darryl McLellan partners Niatross (1200m Maiden Handicap).
The rail is 8m out for this meeting, and Lees’s trio have all drawn well. He has decided to put ear muffs on former German mare Vive Marie, hoping they will settle her. At her Australian debut, Vive Marie finished last in a Benchmark 82 Handicap (1400m) at Royal Randwick on August 4.
“She surprised us that day because I expected her to run okay,” Lees said. “She is fine at trackwork, so hopefully the ear muffs will do the trick.” Vive Marie has raced only eight times and won over 1600m in Germany in October 2016 when on debut.
Lees withdrew Moondancer from a Kembla Grange race last Saturday when he drew poorly. A Newcastle 1400m winner in late June, Moondancer was third in a Benchmark 67 Handicap (1600m) at Wyong on July 24 at his latest start: “He looks to have a good chance, especially from the inside draw,” Lees said.
Unraced Fastnet Rock three-year-old Niatross is one of the more interesting runners at the meeting. Another debutant Bandol’s Hawkesbury victory today has shed further light on his first-up prospects.
Niatross was first out of the stalls and didn’t surrender in the straight when a close second to Bandol in a 1000m Gosford trial on August 6: “He’s a nice colt and we’ve been patient with him,” Lees said. “I expect him to run well, but he will certainly take improvement from this race.”