Veteran 10-year-old Ihtsahymn entered the...
One-time favourite Frankely Awesome has been scratched from Thursday’s 2020 Grafton Cup field leaving NSW Premiership leading trainer Kris Lees with two chances in the Clarence River Jockey Club feature race.
The Listed $200,000 Iron Jack Grafton Cup (2350m) field is down to 15 runners with the Newcastle-based Lees opting to withdraw his last start WJ McKell Cup winning mare Frankely Awesome (16).
After drawing the outside alley, the four-year-old daughter of Frankel was subsequently scratched from the line-up and will instead be saved for a Benchmark race in Sydney Saturday week with Lees hoping for a rain-affected track.
“She has the outside gate and I know there’s some rain around but it’s still no guarantee it’s going to be a soft track and there’s a race in Sydney next Saturday so we’ll wait for that,” he told AAP.
“There is rain forecast next week in Sydney so that’s a better option for her.”
Lees, who chases his first Grafton Cup success, is still in the mix with two runners including the firming $3.70 favourite through Ladbrokes.com.au Sixties Groove and veteran runner Big Duke ($11) drawn in barriers 12 and five respectively.
Seven-year-old Sixties Groove gives the weight away to his rivals on Thursday carrying 61kg, but remains the horse to beat after his eye-catching second to Frankely Awesome in the Listed W J McKell Cup (2000m) on June 27.
He is tipped to improve off that run getting out over more distance, his first look at close to a mile and a half since winning the Group 2 Brisbane Cup (2400m) at Eagle Farm in June of last year.
For the stable’s eight-year-old Raven’s Pass gelding Big Duke it has been even longer between drinks, the stayer winless since the $500,000 St Leger (2600m) at Randwick in October of 2017.
Best known for his fourth in that year’s iconic Melbourne Cup, Big Duke has racked up a host of other notable placings since including behind Avilius in last year’s Group 1 Tancred Stakes (2400m) and his third to Sixties Groove in the Brisbane Cup.
He too is a graduate of the WJ McKell Cup looking to atone for his 10th when beating home just two other runners over the line but still only 4.4 lengths off his winning stablemate.
“I think it’s a nice option for both horses,” Lees said of the Grafton Cup race.
“Sixties Groove was a little luckless in the McKell Cup. You could make a case he should have nearly won. He’s going to need a bit of luck again from his draw (barrier 12) but I feel he’ll be very competitive.
“Big Duke just raced a bit fierce throughout in the McKell Cup. We used his barrier a little and we may have been better off riding him a bit more conservatively.
“I went into that race thinking he was our best chance.
“He’ll be ridden a touch more conservatively. He has come out of his last start well and at his third run in he should be ready to run up to his best.”
When pressed to separate his two remaining Grafton Cup horses, Lees confirmed the bookies likely had it right.
“Off their runs the other day you’d have to say Sixties Groove,” he said.
“But they are starting to get a bit of a gap between them in the weights and I have been very happy with how Big Duke has been working, so I don’t think there’s much between them at all.”
Following the scratching of Frankely Awesome, the Grafton Cup market mover now occupying the second line of betting is Carzoff in 14 backed in from $6 to $4.60 for trainer Chris Waller.
Carzoff has Glen Boss in the saddle on Thursday and carries the 58kg second top weight, the French-bred son of Zoffany in strong winter form in Sydney.
Two back he was runner-up by a narrow margin to stablemate Wu Gok in the Listed Winter Cup (2400m) run in the mud at Rosehill before his last start third in the WJ McKell Cup.
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