By Gary Harley
Kris Lees has completed the first six months of the 2017/18 season with 82½ winners and he is at short odds to add to that figure at the Newcastle race meeting on Saturday. Lees trained a stable record of 161 winners last season and with half the current season completed, Newcastle’s leading trainer is on track to break his record.
On Saturday, Lees will saddle up four runners, three of which are favourites and the other second favourite in early markets. The quartet includes Nationality ($1.90) in the 1200 metres Class 2 Handicap, Sunreel ($2) in the 900 metre Maiden Plate, Grasslands ($2.40) 1200 metre Class 2 Handicap and Turnberry ($2.50) in the 1400 metre Benchmark 71 Handicap.
Nationality was outstanding first-up on the Beaumont track where he outclassed his eight opponents on January 20.
It is normally a tough task to go from a Maiden to a Class 2 but it is a small field and a winnable race.
Sunreel, one of the first of the progeny of former superstar Dundeel to race, was unlucky on debut at Wyong recently when narrowly beaten.
The shorter trip is a negative, however, the longer straight is in her favour. Grasslands has won her past two starts at Gosford two weeks back and Muswellbrook last August. She is a speedy filly and can make it a hat-trick.
Turnberry is raced by a group of Kiwi racing identities, resumes after an impressive first campaign in the spring. The three-year-old colt had three starts during September and October for two wins at Scone and Wyong and the second at Hawksbury. He is a promising stayer with two recent barrier trials under his belt.
Lees discussed the prospect of his quartet: “Nationality was gelded during his spell and was impressive first-up. He is an on-pacer, is working well and I rate him our best chance. Sunreel is a promising filly who realistically needs further than the 900. However, we need her to earn prizemoney so she can secure a start in next week's Inglis Classic. The big track and long straight will help her.
"Grasslands' effort to win first-up at Gosford was very good. She is not brilliant from the gates and she will need luck from the barrier; she has trained on nicely. Turnberry is a nice horse resuming and he races like a stayer. It is an open race but he is going well and he will be hard to beat,” Lees said.
The Bjorn Baker-trained filly Behold the Queen is capable of upsetting odds-on favourite Angel’s Boy in the 1200 metre Maiden Handicap. She placed on debut in a strong Kembla Maiden on January 13 and the extra 200 metres is ideal.
The three-year-old is one of five mounts for former Kiwi jockey Rory Hutchings. Local boy Aaron Bullock who is currently on target for his best season has five rides, three of which for Lees are well fancied. Bullock has ridden 47 winners in the first half of the season.