Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist may be up in distance off his first-up run last month, but trainer Kris Lees is still concerned he needs further than the 2000m of Saturday’s Australian Cup 2015.
The Monsun stallion returns to Flemington Racecourse where he thrashed his rivals in the ‘race that stops a nation’, five-year-old Protectionist winning last November’s $6.2 million Group 1 Emirates Melbourne Cup (3200m) by four lengths.
He was still prepared by Germany’s Andreas Wohler during the spring, but is now prepared at Newcastle by Broadmeadow’s Kris Lees.
The import debuted for Lees on February 28 at Caulfield in the Group 2 Peter Young Stakes (1800m) where he ran sixth to Mourinho as the beaten favourite.
Lees had warned punters off his star stayer leading up to the Peter Young because of the unsuitably short distance, and has issued a similar warning leading into this weekend’s $1 million Group 1 Australian Cup (2000m).
“(I am) still very guarded about the 2000m distance,” he told the Herald Sun on Tuesday.
“He looks every bit like he wants a mile-and-a-half (2400m) and once he gets to that trip I’ll go into a race with a lot more confidence.”
There are 37 horses nominated for this year’s Australian Cup, the field out this morning, including Protectionist who will face off against a number of the horses who beat him home first-up.
The Peter Young Stakes trifecta is all nominated with the Peter Gelagotis-trained Mourinho looking for the double, runner-up Happy Trails looking to peak third-up and win for the first time since his Mackinnon Stakes victory last November, and the Darren Weir-trained third placed veteran Akzar looking for another big run after bypassing Monday’s Group 2 Adelaide Cup (3200m).
While Protectionist’s record shows a win over the mile, the horse hasn’t won over less than 2200m since 2012.
The bookies are taking no notice though with the galloper still sitting top of the Australian Cup betting markets, despite Lees talking down his chances.
Protectionist worked over 2000m at Caulfield on Monday morning, completing his final 400m sectional in 25 seconds ahead of the Australian Cup and looks in top condition.
Lees though is more confident another Group 1 win will come for the champion when he goes to Sydney later this autumn targeting the $1.6 million Group 1 Sydney Cup (3200m) back up over two miles at Randwick on April 11 during The Championships.
“He is in good order, make no mistake, but I know how good he is at 3200m and I suspect he will hit his straps over 2400m and above,” Lees said.
“So Sydney will probably be his best chance (of winning a race) this campaign.”
Protectionist leads current 2015 Sydney Cup odds at $4.60 through Ladbrokes.com.au, a similar price to what is being offered for him over less distance this weekend.
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