By Ray Hickson
We may only be in the second year of the TAB Everest but trainer Kris Lees has no doubt about its standing on the racing calendar or his desire to win it.
The leading Newcastle trainer will supply a quarter of the field in Australia’s richest race with outstanding mare In Her Time, wet track specialist Le Romain and untapped three-year-old Graff.
But that won’t make it any easier for him to lift the $500,000 diamond encrusted trophy in a race the punters, with three $7 favourites, are having a hard time sorting out.
“You never see a market like that and it shows it’s a wonderful field and a great concept,’’ Lees said.
“It’s in its infancy but it has certainly captured everyone’s attention and it is fast becoming Australia‘s number one race, dare I say it. It’s great to be a part of it.
“We are grateful and quite fortunate, all the owners are thrilled to have a runner in the race.’’
Lees, whose Group 1 winner Clearly Innocent ran eighth in the 2017 edition, didn’t have one runner in the $13 million TAB Everest (1200m) a month ago but such is the intriguing nature of the race he’s wound up with three.
First came In Her Time, selected as TAB’s runner back in April, who was moved to Lees when her original trainer Ben Smith was suspended last month.
Then in a dramatic few days over the long weekend where The Everest lost Nature Strip, English and Invincible Star, the Lees pair of Graff and Le Romain were snapped up.
In Her Time, winner of last year’s Sydney Stakes, showed she’s on track for her long awaited Everest shot with a gutsy first-up third in the Premiere Stakes (1200m) on September 29.
She was considered unlucky not to make the final field after winning the Premiere first-up in 2017 then ran faster time in taking out the Everest consolation a race before the main event.
Her jockey Corey Brown said he felt there was improvement in her with the run under her belt this spring.
“I was stoked with the way she ran the other day,’’ Brown said.
“If I had Redzel taking me 50m further in the straight she wins for sure.
“It doesn’t bother me if we get a bad track or a good track because she has form on both of them. If she can get a nice enough run I am sure she will look the winner somewhere.’’
Lees said In Her Time has come through that run in the Premiere very well and she has her final gallop on Tuesday.
He has no concerns about a rain affected track with the mare and even less with his triple Group 1 winner Le Romain who is arguably the best wet tracker in the race yet is the outsider at $17 in the cramped market.
The six-year-old hasn’t raced since giving Winx a small run for her money in the Group 1 Colgate Optic White Stakes (1600m) a month ago.
“Any wet ground will bring him right into the race,’’ Lees said.
“We always had this in the back of our mind that if he wasn’t in the Everest field he’d be the first emergency so I prepared him for him running 1200m on the day.’’
Both In Her Time and Le Romain are accomplished at weight for age at the top level but what of the three-year-old Graff?
The colt has only had five career starts and his only exposure to Group 1 level was his last start third in the Golden Rose (1400m) on September 22 against his own age.
Lees has no doubt Graff will be a serious contender in 12 months time but won’t rule him out with just 53kg if he can draw favourably.
“It’s a hard one to measure up. I think he’s a very good horse and the one with the most upside in the race,’’ Lees said.
“Where he meets some of these others I’m not sure but coming back from that tough 1400m in the Golden Rose he’s fresh and well and I think he will give it a real shake.
“He just needs that right type of run to show that electric turn of foot he has with the 53kg.’’