The Kris Lees stable continued their superb run of form in Sydney on a Saturday with a winning double as Mugatoo kicked off his latest prep with victory in the Listed Winter Challenge (1500m).
The highest rated winner of the Winter Challenge since its inception in 2011, Mugatoo produced an effort which indicates he can aim up towards one of Sydney’s feature Group 1 spring handicaps such as the Epsom (1600m) or the Metropolitan (2400m).
Korcho provided the stable a winning double when the UK import claimed a second straight success in a 2400m Benchmark 78 3YO+ Handicap.
Kris Lees has now saddled up at least one winner in Sydney on a Saturday for the past eight weeks, starting with Wandabaa winning at Randwick on June 6.
Such a streak surely has to represent a new record in Sydney for a NSW provincial-based trainer.
Race 1: Smart Image - 2YO Handicap (1200m)
A strong win by a promising 2YO and while this shapes as potentially being a solid form reference moving forward, it will no doubt be overshadowed by the fall of Andrew Adkins and the serious injuries the young rider sustained.
Putting it aside and looking at the facts and figures, Smart Image has done a nice job of it.
The Smart Missile colt has produced good improvement on his debut and is in work at a great time with a lot of early season stakes level three-year-old sprints on the calendar in Sydney over August.
The Group 3 Up And Coming Stakes (1300m) on the Kensington in three weeks shapes as his likely next start. The Snowden’s have a strong record in the event. Either through Peter Snowden training individually or in partnership, they’ve won it four times since 2009 with horses such as Rarefied, Blackball, Albrecht and Dracarys in 2017.
Shaik did well in second and it might be worth running her in the Group 2 Silver Shadow Stakes (1200m) at Randwick in a month. She’d go into the event as the fit filly against some of the more proven two-year-olds of this season who’ll likely be resuming.
Race 2: Freehearted - Benchmark 78 3YO+ F&M Handicap (1200m)
While this was arguably one of the lower key races on the card, Freehearted sustained her run well and poked through late.
The first four across the line are mares who can have a couple more starts this prep at Benchmark 78 level before the spring horses get back.
Willowheart in fifth shapes as the one to follow from the race. The I Am Invincible filly settled behind the leader and was sticking on well enough, not beaten far.
The three-year-old will be fitter for the run and only has a Benchmark of 68 meaning the stable can really pick and choose where she goes to next. Saturday level and midweek level races are both potential options for her second up.
Race 3: Eiger - Class 3 Highway Plate (1500m)
Eiger was well placed under Set Weights conditions. He’s improved with each run this prep.
The Dream Ahead gelding has graduated from Highway Handicaps now so for Saturday Sydney punters he will likely disappear for a while.
There is an 1800m Class 3 Highway Plate at Rosehill in two weeks. Bajan Gold in third and Group Think in fourth should be headed there. Both horses were finding the line nicely and have shown they each appreciate getting out over a mile and beyond.
Bajan Gold in particular will be suited there fourth run from a spell, out to 1800m and under the Set Weights.
Race 4: Eduardo - Listed July Sprint (1100m)
This was a great way for Eduardo to start his time with the Joe Pride stable. The Host gelding has produced a Timeform rating of 115 which suggests while he’s a rising seven-year-old, the former Victorian is back better than ever.
He was the only horse to run inside overall standard time for the meeting and clocked time almost one second quicker than the other 1100m race on the card.
This is a horse who placed in an Oakleigh Plate and won a Caulfield Sprint so Joe Pride has had a pretty smart one fall into his lap here.
To Pride’s credit though, the Warwick Farm-based trainer has a great record with tried horses arriving at his stable.
By our count he’s had 334 tried horses enter his stable, of those, 58 have won their first run with Joe at a strike rate of 17.5%.
The Group 2 Missile Stakes (1200m) at Rosehill on August 8 is next for Eduardo, that is a race Joe has won twice in the past, Rain Affair won the race in 2011 and 2013.
Race 5: Korcho - Benchmark 78 3YO+ Handicap (2400m)
Korcho made it eight straight Saturday’s Kris Lees has trained a winner in Sydney. It is surely a new record for a provincial trainer.
The UK import has picked off two Benchmark 78 wins in a row now and this one was pretty soft.
Both wins have come in at the peak figure he produced during his time in the UK and it looks like the son of Toronado has more to give.
It gets tough to find a suitable race for Korcho through August but the Wyong and Newcastle Cups in September look like really juicy options for him. Both possess good prizemoney and with a Benchmark of 82 the Australian Bloodstock-raced stayer would be somewhere down on the minimum.
Race 6: Dancing Gidget - Benchmark 70 3YO Handicap (1400m)
Dancing Gidget settled back in the field and ran on strongly. The Al Maher filly ran time close to standard and produced nice improvement on her first up win.
She’s a nice three-year-old who has a stack of Benchmark 78 options she can go to in the next month third run from a spell.
Papal Warrior, Academy, Frosty Rocks they were all solid. All have been thereabouts this prep but it is a shame for them they couldn’t pick up a Saturday BOBS bonus this winter.
Travest was making late ground. The Tavistock gelding probably had to make his run on what by then was becoming the wrong part of the track. Market expectations aside it was a solid effort.
Race 7: Mugatoo - Listed Winter Challenge (1500m)
Mugatoo settled back and rounded them up in the straight with relative ease. The UK import promised a lot during his first Australian prep in the autumn and has built on it here with a new career peak.
We’ve awarded the performance a Timeform rating of 116 which is a high winning figure for a Winter Challenge.
It sounds like the Group 3 Premier’s Cup (1900m) at Rosehill on August 29 is next on his agenda. Connections will reportedly make a call after that whether they go up to the 12 furlongs of a Metropolitan or back to the mile of an Epsom Handicap.
Horses in the past have progressed from this race into proper spring horses. The Chris Waller-trained He's Your Man won this race in 2014. Three starts later he won an Epsom Handicap after dropping back from middle distance races such as the Premier’s Cup (1900m) and Kingston Town Stakes (2000m).
It was good to watch and enjoyable after the win mapping the rest of Mugatoo’s prep. It was a real reminder the spring is just around the corner with only four weeks until the Group 1 Winx Stakes (1400m) at Randwick on August 22.
Race 8: Poetic Charmer - Benchmark 88 3YO+ Handicap (1300m)
Poetic Charmer is flying this prep having returned two wins from three starts now. I had suspicions he may have been wound right up for his first up win but the Your Song gelding has run to that level again on Saturday.
Team Snowden will likely send him to another Benchmark 88 Handicap from here.
Outback Diva was finding the line strongly in sixth. She can always drop back to Benchmark 78 grade.
New King back in seventh is probably the horse out of this race who interests me the most.
It was his Australian debut and was ridden very conservatively but finished the race off nicely under minimal urgings from jockey Glyn Schofield.
James Harron bloodstock paid big money last year to bring New King across from the UK. The son of Frankel has a peak figure in the UK which suggests he’s got some talent. The four-year-old is also related to a horse called Military Law who was twice Group placed in Dubai behind horses such as Benbatl and Matterhorn.
There are a few races up ahead over a bit more ground in Sydney over the coming weeks. Second up and rising in trip, New King is definitely a horse of interest.
Race 9: Varda - Benchmark 78 3YO+ Handicap (1100m)
Varda hasn’t put a foot wrong this campaign. She’s won each of her three starts this prep and has improved with each run. The Lonhro filly has clearly done enough to earn a shot at black type in the coming weeks.
There is the Group 3 Toy Show Quality (1100m) in four weeks at Randwick which looks an ideal race for the James Cummings-trained filly. The ease in which she won on Saturday indicates Varda won’t have any issues making the transition to Listed/Group 3 Fillies and Mares stakes company from here.
Minted was finishing his race off well in third. Joe Pride saddled up two runners on Saturday in Eduardo and Minted. Both are tried horses and each produced pleasing results moving forward.