If form counts for anything, consistent mare So You Merge ($3.80 favourite on TAB fixed odds) will be a tough nut to crack at Newcastle on Saturday.
Sydney filly Youngstar’s elevation to Queensland Oaks favouritism after an impressive Doomben Roses (2000m) victory last Saturday points strongly to the prospects of Kris Lees’s four-year-old mare in the Benchmark 69 Handicap (1850m).
Though beaten clearly, So You Merge was a gallant second to Youngstar in a similar race (Benchmark 68) over the same distance at Newcastle three weeks ago on April 28, conceding her 1kg. Andrew Gibbons, who rode a Kembla Grange double yesterday, has the mount on the daughter of So You Think, who has drawn ideally (barrier 2) in the field of 12.
A half-sister to Lees’s handy stayer Admiral Jello, So Your Merge has won three and been placed at four of her only nine starts.
She has won two of her last for appearances, and Lees is confident she will run well again, especially considering Youngstar’s confirmation of the form.
“So You Merge has been up for a while, but continues to work and race well,” Lees said. "It looks a nice race for her; she should be hard to beat.”
Lees also runs Banner Season (Aaron Bullock, $8) in So You Merge’s race, and has decided to put blinkers back on him: “Hopefully the blinkers will encourage him a bit, but he is going to need every bit of the 1850m,” he said.
Including So You Merge, Lees has a number of strong chances at Saturday’s meeting. Promising three-year-olds Rebel Cry ($1.90 fav) and Brabinger ($1.75 fav) contest the respective Class 2 Handicaps over 900m and 1200m, with Bullock aboard the pair. Both lightly-raced horses are stepping straight out of Maiden class into Class 2 contests, but Lees has no qualms about the assignments.
“It’s just the way the programs have worked out,” he said. “They are both on the up and have trained on well since their latest wins.”
Rebel Cry won a 900m 3YO Maiden by more than four lengths on her home track on April 28, and Brabinger – a younger brother to 2013 Cox Plate winner Shamus Award – later in the day was just as impressive, landing a 1200m Maiden on debut by two and a half lengths.
Ruling Symbol (Gibbons) returns in the 2YO Handicap (900m) as a gelding. The Gooree Stud-owned youngster was well in commission ($3.70) on debut, but didn’t race up to expectations when eighth to subsequent Golden Slipper winner Estijaab in a 2YO Plate (1000m) at Royal Randwick on February.
“Ruling Symbol didn’t seem too interested that day, and has come back in good order since being gelded,” Lees said. “He has had two trials and is ready to go to the races, but the topweight King (a recent Newcastle winner over the same course) is the one we have to beat.”
Lees has both topweight Chalmers (Gibbons, $5.50) and Face Like Thunder (apprentice Louise Day, $14) in the Benchmark 60 Handicap (1500m), and is considering relying on the latter.
“Chalmers has a big weight (61.5kg) and the outside barrier, so I might keep him for Muswellbrook on Monday,” he said. Day’s 3kg allowance will lessen Face Like Thunder’s weight to 57.5kg and, unlike her stablemate, she has drawn on the inside.
Face Like Thunder, who provided Day with her first winner (at Tuncurry in March last year), has won up to 2100m and finished less than five lengths from Organza (who scored again yesterday at Kembla Grange) in a Benchmark 72 Handicap (1400m) at Newcastle on April 28 when resuming.