The only time Kris Lees had a Golden Rose Stakes runner 13 years ago, punters barely noticed. It will be a vastly different scenario at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday when Newcastle’s premier trainer saddles pre-post favorite Graff in the $1m 1400m feature for three-year-olds.
Lees’ sole Golden Rose representative until now since the race was launched in 2003 (replacing the Peter Pan Stakes) was the filly Flora Danica (Scott Seamer), who started at $26 and finished 14th to Paratroopers in 2005. Whilst she didn’t figure that day, Flora Danica subsequently was runner-up to Serenade Rose in both the Melbourne and Sydney Oaks.
Come Saturday, Lees is seeking his 15th Group 1 success and looking to provide Graff’s rider, expatriate New Zealander Jason Collett, with a breakthrough at racing’s elite level. And he’s confident the Star Witness colt is in tip-top shape for his rich assignment.
“I couldn’t be happier with Graff; he is in terrific order,” Lees said this afternoon. “He has tightened up a bit since his last run (the first time he suffered defeat in four starts), and the good draw is really important. I’m sure he is ready to run a strong 1400m.”
Graff, successful from both starts last season as a two-year-old, brilliantly won the San Domenico Stakes (1100m) at Rosehill on August 25 when resuming. He then turned in an outstanding performance in going under for the first time, having to race wide on a sticky track when second to Lean Mean Machine in The Run To The Rose (1200m) there on September 8.
“Graff definitely hasn’t gone backwards and has maintained his form since The Run To The Rose,” Lees added.
Gem Song, which Lees had hoped to also get to the Golden Rose, has his second run back this campaign in Saturday’s 3YO Benchmark 72 Handicap (1300m), and stablemate Lady Of Shalott will join him in that race. Graff’s rider Collett partners Gem Song, and Kerrin McEvoy has the Lady Of Shalott mount – and both have strong credentials.
“Gem Song has come on well since his first-up placing on the Kensington track (in a 1300m Benchmark 76 Handicap on September 5) and I expect him to be hard to beat,” Lees said. As with Graff, that was Gem Song’s first loss in three starts, having also won both his two-year-old appearances.
“Lady Of Shalott has also taken improvement from her first-up third in a 1200m Class 2 at the Wyong Cup carnival late last month,” Lees added. “This is a bit stronger, but she is a nice filly who was placed in Listed company at the Scone carnival in May before a break.”
Lees’ other Rosehill representative is consistent Princess Posh (Brenton Avdulla), backing up in the $400,000 Group 2 Golden Pendant (1400m) after her Tibbie Stakes victory over the same distance at last Friday’s Newcastle Cup meeting.
“There weren’t a lot of options now that she has won a Group 3,” he said. “She has to go up another notch to win a Group 2, but has come through her Tibbie run well and is in good order.”
Lees has four acceptors at Saturday’s Queensland metropolitan meeting at the Sunshine Coast, but has not yet confirmed Progression as a certain starter in the Class 3 Plate (1000m): “This race has come up a fair bit stronger than I thought it would,” he said. “But Progression has arrived at the Gold Coast in good order.”
His definite starters are Intrinsic (1200m No Metropolitan Wins for fillies and mares), Dal Cielo (1000m Open Handicap) and Jack’s Bar (1200m NMW for colts and geldings): “We’re trying to get a city win with Intrinsic,” Lees said. “There is some improvement in her following two runs this time in.
“Dal Cielo has stayed at the Gold Coast since winning a 1200m Handicap there last month. He won a 1000m trial at the Coast on September 11 and I’m sure he will sprint well fresh, although the 1000m may be a shade short. Jack’s Bar is in a suitable race for a metropolitan breakthrough. He is very consistent and is nicely drawn.”
Jack’s Bar, a last start Newcastle winner of a Benchmark 64 Handicap (1200m) on September 4 with 61kg, has not finished further back than fourth in nine starts, winning three of them.