Newcastle trainer Kris Lees was all smiles on Monday following a nice trial performance from his Cox Plate 2016 bound mare Lucia Valentina.
The last start winner of the autumn’s richest race – the $4 million Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) at Randwick on April – Lucia Valentina looked back to her best ahead of her new season return when second to Sense Of Occasion in a 1000m hit-out at Gosford on August 1.
Lees was pleased with the Savabeel six-year-old’s first trial of the new season, confirming the $250,000 Group 2 Warwick Stakes (1400m) at Royal Randwick on August 20 as her resuming run.
“She’s come back as good as ever and that was very pleasing,” Lees told The Daily Telegraph on Monday.
In the Warwick Stakes Lucia Valentina will face off against last year’s Cox Plate winning mare Winx, Chris Waller’s superstar also a last start Group 1 winner from the autumn in Sydney’s Doncaster Mile.
The Street Cry five-year-old is the short-priced early favourite at $2.80 in Cox Plate betting at Ladbrokes.com.au to successfully defend her title in the Moonee Valley classic on October 22.
Nominations for the $3 million Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) officially closed at midday on Tuesday.
Lucia Valentina was at $15 in the pre-nomination Cox Plate odds and is Lees’ best hope of preparing his first winner of Australasia’s weight-for-age championship.
As a three-year-old during the autumn of 2014 former New Zealand-raced Lucia Valentina won her first Group 1 race in the Vinery Stud Stakes.
That spring at Flemington she took out another elite level in the Turnbull Stakes (2000m) before a brave third to Japanese raider Admire Ratki in the Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) and an unplaced finish to Protectionist in the 2014 Melbourne Cup.
She also contested last year’s Caulfield Cup over the mile and a half when ninth to Mongolian Khan, but will be kept to the shorter distance of the Cox Plate this season and will run in the classic fresh third-up.
“We’ll be doing the same again [as in the autumn keeping her fresh] except this time she will likely be third-up when she hits her ultimate goal — the Cox Plate,” Lees confirmed.
“We’ll probably kick her off in the Warwick Stakes on August 20 and then go to the Underwood Stakes at Caulfield, which would give her a four-week break to the Cox Plate.”
The $500,000 Group 1 Underwood Stakes (1800m) takes place at Caulfield on September 24 and is a race no mare has won since Tristarc (1985) over 30 years ago.
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