By Ray Hickson
A dashing short courser, a strong closer and an X-factor talent give trainer Kris Lees a powerful say in the Grunt Standing At Yulong Handicap (1000m) at Randwick on Saturday.
While Lees says it’s not ideal to have three smart lasses like Witherspoon, Longbottom and Zaniah clashing in the one race he can see a scenario where each is capable of gaining the upper hand.
It’s clear, though, that Lees feels it’s the latter, Zaniah, who has the potential to reach beyond a mid-June quality Benchmark 78 race.
“She’s the untapped one, we’re not sure where she will finish up but she is very talented,’’ Lees said.
“I am sure she is Saturday grade and better.’’
Zaniah has won brilliantly at both first-up attempts for Lees and she hasn’t raced since going under as favourite at Canterbury back on January 3.
Importantly, the filly has undergone surgery for an entrapped epiglottis, correcting some breathing issues, in the interim and has pleased Lees in three trials in the past month or so.
The latest trial, back on June 10, was a replacement for electing to miss a start at Canterbury where she would have had to carry 61.5kg on a heavy 10 and while Randwick will be heavy it’s a different ask under the 54.5kg over 1000m.
“I was tempted to run her there but this race presented as a nice Saturday option and 1000m first time out would be more appropriate for her,’’ Lees said.
“A heavy track concerns me though she handled the really soft ground in the trial at Newcastle the other day.
“But the Newcastle track handles rain a lot better than many other tracks. As long as it’s not bottomless I’m sure she will be fine.”
The three-year-old was $4.20 favourite with TAB on Thursday ahead of stablemate Witherspoon ($5), coming off a last start Randwick 1000m win, with Longbottom, who was an eye-catching third behind Witherspoon, on the fourth line at $6.50.
Lees said while Witherspoon rises 6kg on her win, he used Louise Day’s 3kg claim there four weeks ago, he doesn’t see it as a significant hindrance to her chances.
“She’s a 1000m specialist and she’s effective on soft ground, like always she’ll take some catching,’’ he said.
“If she can step cleanly she’ll be ridden aggressively early and put into the race, she appreciates that style. With these jump and run type horses I don’t know that weight is that relative.
“The further you get out in distance the weight comes into play but I don’t think it will make a difference.”
Punter’s Intelligence sectional data revealed that Longbottom ran the fastest last 600m of the day (35.08) when she charged into third behind Witherspoon on May 23 and Lees said the barrier draw has been much kinder to her.
Zaniah wins a trial at Newcastle on June 10
She gave away an impossible start there, Lees said how the race is run will be significant for both Australian Bloodstock horses.
“She closed off well the other day,’’ he said.
“She should get a nice enough run, it depends how much pressure Witherspoon gets because if she is pressured it plays into Longbottom’s hands.’’
Lees has chances in four other races at Randwick and when asked to single out one or two he pointed to Juventus (race 9) and Korcho (race 4).
The former is well known to punters while the latter is an import having his second run for Lees, he’s been back to the trials for some added fitness since his stable debut a month ago.
“Juventus is ticking over well and is not far off a win, I thought Korcho was good though he might be a run behind on testing ground,’’ he said.