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KRIS Lees is hoping to have two runners as he chases a second victory in The Ingham at Royal Randwick on Saturday.

Festival Stakes placegetter Rustic Steel (Sam Clipperton) is a confirmed starter, and the leading Newcastle trainer also intends accepting with The Gong runner-up Loch Eagle (Dylan Gibbons) in the $2m Group 2 feature.

Twenty horses can start in The Ingham (with provision for four emergencies if there are sufficient acceptances). Rustic Steel (56.5kg) is 11th in order of entry, whereas Loch Eagle (54kg) currently sits in 25th place.

Lees won Randwick’s 1600m summer highlight in 2016 with $31 chance Sense Of Occasion (Ben Melham) when it was known as the Villiers Stakes, and nearly won it again three years later when Invincible Gem (Hugh Bowman) at $12 was nosed out by Quackerjack.

Both races then carried $250,000 purses, but the renaming of the old Villiers last year saw a massive upsurge in prizemoney to $2m, along with the winner gaining automatic entry into next April’s Doncaster Mile at the same track and over the same distance.

Lees is pleased with how Rustic Steel has come through his close third in last Saturday’s Group 3 Festival Stakes (1500m) at Rosehill Gardens, and believes he will be “spot on” for his attempt to repeat his $2m Big Dance (1600m) victory at Randwick 13 months ago.

“He presented as the winner, and just levelled out the last bit,” Lees said this afternoon.

“That was his third run back, and should be at his peak now for The Ingham.

“Rustic Steel has been given his chance to win another feature ‘mile’, coming down 1kg on the 57.5kg he carried last Saturday.

“I’m really hoping Loch Eagle can make the cut. He ran a great race having to do a lot of work in The Gong (1600m) at Kembla Grange last Saturday week and never gave up.” today posted The Gong winner Detonator Jack as the $4 Ingham favorite ahead of Gong third Osipenko ($8) and Rustic Steel ($11).

Loch Eagle is at $21, whilst the other provincial entries are Brad Widdup’s Festival winner Phearson ($21), Sara Ryan’s Big Dance winner Attractable ($15), and Diane Poidevin Laine’s Jamberoo ($201).

Widdup is yet to finalise a new rider for Phearson, who is on the limit (54kg), but was raised 16 benchmark points to 99 for his gutsy Festival triumph.

. Lees has decided to give last Friday’s runaway Mudgee Showcase Cup winner Tavi Time a break.

“There’s nothing else suitable for him at present, so it’s the right time to ease back,” he said.

Stablemate Acquitted, who dodged the Festival Stakes and headed north to easily win the Listed Tails Stakes (1600m) at Doomben last Saturday, will remain at Lees’ Gold Coast base.

His next target is the $200,000 Listed Bernborough Plate (1600m) – run at set weights plus penalties – at Eagle Farm on December 23.

Meanwhile, Lees is considering sending unraced filly Naughty Nurse to Queensland to make her debut in the Calaway Gal (1000m) for two-year-old fillies at Eagle Farm on Saturday.

“If she works okay in the morning, then we will most likely have a crack at the race,” Lees said.

A $250,000 Magic Millions purchase earlier this year for Joe O’Neill’s Prime Thoroughbreds, the daughter of Russian Revolution has trialled twice in preparation for her first start.

She was placed on both occasions at Wyong (845m) on November 15, and Newcastle (800m) on November 30.

Naughty Nurse is a daughter of Savabeel mare Nurse Kitchen, who was a Group 2 winner and Group 1 placed. She started co-favorite when sixth to the other joint favorite Bonneval in the 2017 Group 1 Australian Oaks (2400m) at Randwick, and had her last three runs in Lees’ care in the winter of 2018 before being retired to stud.

*Story John Curtis, November 4, 2023 - Pics Bradley Photos*

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