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KRIS Lees is hoping the “luck of the Irish” is on his side in Tuesday’s $8.4m Melbourne Cup at Flemington.For the first time, the leading Newcastle trainer has qualified two runners

Cleveland and Kalapour – both Irish imports – for the 163rd edition of the famous two-miler, and says there is nothing between the pair.

But the stablemates will have to overcome wide barriers to take the Cup. Kalapour was the second horse drawn and part-owner Michael Clemenger unwittingly selected barrier 14, whilst Cleveland was the seventh horse out and his part-owner David Evans came up with barrier 23.

Cleveland ensured a Cup run by winning the Group 2 Gold Cup (2500m) at The Valley just over a week ago, and Kalapour burst through the back door today at Flemington to clinch the final spot in the 24-horse field by landing the Group 3 Lexus Archer Stakes (2500m).

Legendary jockey Damien Oliver, competing at his final Melbourne Cup carnival, provided Lees with his second representative when he seized the initiative on Kalapour($4.80) to make the running in the Archer, and was never headed.

The seven-year-old gelding carried 56kg, drops to 50kg on Tuesday and was not penalised for today’s victory.

With Oliver booked for French import Alenquer in the Cup (he wouldn’t have been able to make Kalapour’s weight anyway), Lees moved swiftly to secure last season’s Sydney apprentices’ premiership winner Zac Lloyd, who became available when his original mount Valiant King was ruled out with an injury.

Cleveland was penalised 0.5kg to 52kg for his impressive win at The Valley last Friday night.

Following the barrier draw, listed Cleveland (Michael Dee) at $26, and Kalapour at $41, with boom Irish stayer Vauban a firming $3.20 favorite after his owner chose the miniature cup containing the No 3 barrier underneath.

The Newcastle stablemates will be Lees’ fifth and sixth Melbourne Cup runners in his 20-year career since taking over the Broadmeadow stable following the death of his father Max in August 2003, but modestly played down the significance of a provincial trainer having two horses in the great race.

“I suppose it is a nice achievement, but it won’t matter much if Cleveland and Kalapour don’t run well,” the 16-times Group 1 winner said from Melbourne this evening.

“Hopefully it doesn’t turn out to be a similar scenario to the Newcastle Gold Cup in mid-September when both horses drew near the outside and the shape of the race gave them no chance at all.”

Kalapour and Cleveland finished seventh and ninth respectively behind Melbourne Cup rival Military Mission, who will jump from barrier five on Tuesday.

“There has been very little between my two horses all preparation,” Lees said.

“Kalapour (third) was behind Cleveland (second) in the ATC St Leger (2600m) at Randwick last month before both horses came to Melbourne, and now has a 4kg turnaround.

“That could be telling even though Cleveland is proven at the distance. Kalapour won his maiden in Ireland at 2500m and, though yet to be tested at 3200m, is very consistent.

“Both horses will go to the beach tomorrow, and at least we are going into the Cup with two last-start winners.”

Lees’ previous Melbourne Cup runners were:

2003 – County Tyrone (Jim Cassidy, $41) – 15th to MakybeDiva;

2014 – Lucia Valentina (Kerrin McEvoy, $7 second favorite) – 13th to Protectionist;

2019 – Mustajeer (Damien Oliver, $19) – 23rd to Vow AndDeclare;

2020 – Mustajeer (Michael Rod, $101) – 19th to Twilight Payment.

Kalapour carries the Lucia Valentina colours of his major New Zealand owner Lib Petagna.

In a coup for the leading Newcastle trainer’s operation, Lees’ star apprentice Dylan Gibbons will have his first ride in the Cup with the mount on twice Cup winning Irish trainer Joseph O’Brien’s $71 outsider Okita Soushi, who jumps from barrier 20.

Gibbons, 22, tuned up for the Cup by winning the $500,000 Four Pillars Midway (1500m) at Rosehill Gardens today on Sweet Mercy ($19).

He will get valuable Flemington experience by partnering Baltic Coast for Lees in the race before the Cup, the Subzero Handicap (1400m) for horses registered as grey.

*Story John Curtis, November 4, 2023 - Pic Gettys*

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