Five-year-old Protectionist will return to Flemington on Saturday, his first time at the track since winning the Group 1 Emirates Melbourne Cup (3200m) on November 4.
The Kris Lees-trained horse is one of 16 middle-distance runners set to contest the $1 million Group 1 Australian Cup (2000m).
Protectionist will have more to win then just the $600,000 on offer for the first placegetter, he will be out to join the likes of Fiorente, Makybe Diva, and Let’s Elope in completing the Melbourne Cup-Australian Cup double in the same season.
Lees believes Protectionist will relish the return to Flemington but is unsure about the proven stayer’s ability to win over 2000 metres.
“He’s very well in himself,” Lees told Sky Racing.
“We’ve always been pretty open that we’re guarded about him over the shorter trip but all the natural things, the extra 200 metres, the bigger track and genuine tempo are all things that are going to suit him.
“It’s just whether he can react at the 2000 metres.”
Protectionist opened the Australian Cup betting at Ladbrokes.com.au as the $5 co-favourite along with Happy Trails but his price has since eased out to $5.50 while Happy Trails has firmed to $4.60.
“I expect him to run very well, but I think he’s false favourite,” Lees said of the odds at the time.
After putting a massive margin on his Melbourne Cup rivals and winning the $6.2 million race by four lengths, Protectionist was transferred from Andreas Wohler’s care to Lees’. The horse was spelled for three months before resuming in the Group 2 Peter Young Stakes (1800m) at Caulfield on February 28.
Craig Williams rode the horse, reporting after the race that the mount was not suited to the Caulfield circuit, finishing four lengths behind the winner Mourinho in sixth place.
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