Lees looks to Kembla for change in fortune

By: Mandy Cottell Wednesday 20 November 20

An afternoon of near-misses defined Kris Lees' day at Newcastle but all will be forgotten if the stable can make amends in the $1 million The Gong at Kembla Grange.

A week after Newcastle hosted its first stand-alone Saturday meeting in almost 20 years, Kembla will get its turn with a bumper nine-race card.

Lees had a frustrating day at his home track with seconds in the $1 million The Hunter and Group Three Spring Stakes, while his two-year-olds filled the placings in the Max Lees Classic.

Adding salt to the wound, stable stalwart Le Romain bled, incurring a three-month ban from racing, while Graff raced poorly and was later found to have suffered an internal haemorrhage.

"It was one of those days," Lees said.

The trainer will get another bite at a $1 million cherry with three runners in the first edition of The Gong (1600m), led by El Dorado Dreaming who shares early favouritism.

The mare has drawn gate five, while stablemates Articus (18) and Nicoletta (19) face tougher tasks from outside barriers.

"They will run. Nicoletta goes forward, Articus goes back and El Dorado has drawn pretty well," Lees said.

A Group One winner at two when trained by Benjamin Smith, El Dorado Dreaming resumed with a midfield effort behind Arcadia Queen in the Theo Marks Stakes before her campaign was interrupted by a foot issue.

Lees redirected her spring goal towards Saturday's race and El Dorado Dreaming put the writing on the wall with a closing last-start third to Reelem In Ruby at Group Two level.

She is yet to win at a mile but has placed in a Coolmore Classic (1500m) and Lees will consider a Villiers Stakes (1600m) tilt if she performs at Kembla.

"I've got no queries about the mile. I think she's looking for it," Lees said.

Nicoletta could also be Villiers-bound after showing positive signs when sixth to Reelem In Ruby at her stable debut.

Lees has tinkered with her gear and hopes the mare, who is in foal, can get another win before becoming a broodmare.

"She has come on really well and we've put the blinkers back on her," Lees said.

"She can probably still go to the Villiers too. She has still got a bit of racing to go time-wise."

Lees is one of three trainers set to have multiple runners in The Gong.

Chris Waller saddles up Mister Sea Wolf, Star Of The Seas and Asterius, the first emergency promoted into the field with the early scratching of Testashadow.

Bjorn Baker has accepted with Goodfella and Sir Plush who will back up from unplaced runs in The Hunter.