Newcastle-based trainer Kris Lees is gearing up for a big Easter Saturday at Randwick as he saddles up a number of livewire chances, most notably his progressive two-year-old Uate.
Ad Valorem colt Uate is one of 12 juveniles accepted for the $400,000 Group 1 Champagne Stakes (1600m) this year and Lees remains optimistic that his runner has what it takes to stop the Darley operation from Triple Crown glory.
Darley’s chief trainer Peter Snowden has last start AJC Inglis Sires Produce Stakes champion Helmet and also Disputes racing in the Champagne Stakes on Saturday.
Helmet’s win in the Sires Produce followed on from star stablemate Sepoy securing the Blue Diamond Stakes, which gives Darley and Snowden the opening two legs of the two-year-olds Triple Crown Series.
Despite drawing awkwardly in barrier eight, ultra consistent Exceed And Excel colt Helmet is the top fancy to win the Champagne and hand Snowden a Triple Crown clean sweep.
If there is someone out there that knows how to stop a Triple Crown whitewash it is Lees.
Back in 2008 Lees’ daughter of Redoute’s Choice Samantha Miss scored a gritty victory in the Champagne Stakes, thwarting the Gai Waterhouse-trained Sebring from adding the third and final Triple Crown race to their name after Sebring had previously won the Golden Slipper and Sires Produce that year.
Uate, named after the NRL Newcatle Knight’s flying winger Akulia Uate, was just a half-length away second to Helmet in the Sires Produce Stakes last start and will be looking to return to his previous form.
“He has come through the Sires in good order,” Lees said of Uate.
The colt won his opening three starts including the Group 3 Skyline Stakes (1200m) at Warwick Farm on March 12 and has drawn ideally with barrier five, due to be ridden by Nash Rawiller on Saturday.
“He definitely hasn’t shown any signs of going backwards,” Lees said.
“I think each run he has been better than the previous one and if he continues on that way then he’s going to have a good chance on Saturday.
“I’m mindful that he’s been up a while, so it’s a test for all these types of horses that have had long preparations.
“It’s (the Champagne Stakes) a $400,000 Group One race and I think the month off leading into the Sires is going to benefit getting these two runs out of him.”
There is a lot riding on Uate’s performance in the Champagne Stakes including the possibility that current connections Australian Bloodstock, who purchased the colt for just over $100,000, may consider selling Uate to the interested Hong Kong buyers who have offered around the half a million mark for him.
“If he won a Group One race it would be even more than that,” Australian Bloodstock director Jamie Lovett said.
“A lot of studs are looking at him from a stallion perspective.
“Even though the Champagne is also a Group One and a further distance (than the Sires Produce), we know he can run it and have another place.”
Among Uate’s other Champagne Stakes rivals are the Bart Cummings-trained Salade with the inside running from gate one and Danny O’Brien’s well-tried two-year-old Running Tall out wide in barrier 11.
Lees also prepares one of the top fancies for the $175,000 Group 2 Emancipation Stakes (1600m) with Hidden Wonder on the rails for the fillies and mares feature and last-start Rosehill winner Motspur in the $100,000 Listed Hall Mark Stakes (1200m) at the Sydney Cup Day meeting.
There are eight races in total running at Randwick on Easter Saturday including an incredible four Group 1 features.
2011 Moet & Chandon Champagne Stakes Final Field & Barrier Draw
|#||Form (Last 10)||Horse||Trainer||Jockey||Barrier||Weight|
|2||18||SALADE||Bart Cummings||Hugh Bowman||1||56.5kg|
|3||1112||UATE||Kris Lees||Nash Rawiller||5||56.5kg|
|4||3X2710||RUNNING TALL||Danny O’Brien||Glen Boss||11||56.5kg|
|5||17X22||COCKY RAIDER||David Payne||Corey Brown||12||56.5kg|
|6||43X2||QUEENIAN||David Payne||Michael Rodd||6||56.5kg|
|7||59120||BOYS ON TOUR||John P Thompson||Jim Cassidy||10||56.5kg|
|9||111323||PANE IN THE GLASS||John P Thompson||Jim Byrne||4||54.5kg|
|10||316X36||FAST AND SEXY||Chris Waller||Glyn Schofield||3||54.5kg|
|12||8X323||HOUSTON BENEFACTOR||Anthony Cummings||Tim Clark||9||54.5kg|