May 30, 2019
NEWCASTLE: Thursday, May 30, 2019: KRIS Lees has a “soft spot” for the Queensland Oaks – and he’s hoping that will be even more so at Doomben on Saturday.
Lees has two definite representatives (Aliferous and Angel OfHeaven) and two emergencies (Itz Lily and Grand Bouquet) in the $500,000 Oaks (2200m); a race which gave him a maiden Group 1 interstate success and only the second of his then fledgling career (Country Tyrone was the first in the 2004 Metropolitan at Royal Randwick).
It’s been 14 years since Newcastle’s leading trainer won the Oaks (then run at Eagle Farm) with Vitesse Dane (Hugh Bowman) and also finished third with Tick By.
Lees has had only five starters since in Queensland’s feature three-year-old fillies’ classic, with the best performed being Lacada Siren (Robert Thompson), who ran fourth to Purple in 2009.
His last was Rustic Melody, who finished fifth to the wonder mare Winx in 2015.
Whilst Lees – as with many other trainers – would prefer Saturday’s Oaks was run on the bigger stretches across the road at Eagle Farm, he is approaching the 2019 edition with some confidence.
Aliferous, fourth in the ATC Oaks (2400m) at Randwick last month, goes in as the first filly home in the Sydney classic as the first three placegetters (VerryElleegant, Scarlet Dream and Frankely Awesome) are absentees this time.
Angel Of Heaven keeps taking the next step and was an excellent second to Fun Fact against the “boys” in last Saturday’s Grand Prix Stakes (2200m) at Eagle Farm.
“I’m very happy with both fillies; they’re in great order,” Lees said this afternoon.
“Before the barrier draw, I would have said Aliferous was my pick, and I still have a preference for her.
“But the draw has undoubtedly brought the two fillies closer.
“Angel Of Heaven is going to get a nice run from barrier three, whereas Aliferous, who was unlucky not to have won The Roses (2000m) at Doomben when runner-up a fortnight ago, is going to need that touch of luck.”
Brenton Avdulla, back from a Japanese riding stint, partners Aliferous, on whom he won the Group 3 Adrian Knox Stakes (2000m) at Randwick on April 6, a week before her Oaks fourth.
Larry Cassidy has the mount on Redoute’s Choice filly Angel Of Heaven. Her dam, the Zabeel mare Lights Of Heaven (also raced by the Wanless family), won the 2011 SA Oaks at Morphettville and the following year was narrowly beaten in the Doomben Cup (2000m) before bolting away with the Brisbane Cup (2400m) at Eagle Farm.
Lees is giving serious thought to backing up Aliferous – as he did with Vitesse Dane (an unlucky third) – in Saturday week’s Group 1 Queensland Derby (2400m) at Eagle Farm, but not Angel Of Heaven, as it would mean racing for a third consecutive weekend.
Grand Bouquet, if she doesn’t get an Oaks berth, instead will start at the Gold Coast in a 3YO Handicap (1800m), and Lees is hoping the last start winner can bank another winner to boost her chances of securing a start in the Derby.
Lees starts stablemates Big Duke (Avdulla) and Sixties Groove (Damien Oliver) in Saturday’s $400,000 Group 2 wfaO’Shea Stakes (2200m), and is putting blinkers back on the former.
“Being on the tighter track at Doomben, I’m hoping they will help him,” he said.
“But Sixties Groove has the better draw, and is going well. His run when placed in the Doomben Cup a fortnight ago was a beauty.
“Both horses will go on to the Brisbane Cup (2400m) at Eagle Farm on Saturday week.”
Lees has an interesting newcomer running for him at Doomben. Avdulla rides Longbottom in the Listed Oxlade Stakes (1200m) for two-year-olds.
The aptly-named Sidestep filly (fullback Kevin Longbottom was a member of South Sydney’s successful 1967 Grand Final team) was purchased by Australian Bloodstock for $140,000 at a Gold Coast sale on Tuesday.
Longbottom has raced only three times and, after winning her first two starts (including an Eagle Farm 1000m victory in April) was an excellent second to Spilt in the Inglis Challenge (1100m) at the Scone Cup meeting on May 10.
“I’ve decided to put blinkers on the filly on the recommendation of her previous trainer Brett Cavanough,” Lees said.
“This race at set weights will be a good test for her, and we’ll know where we are at.”