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KRIS Lees doesn’t necessarily view the reduction in field size for tomorrow’s The Hunter as a boost to the chances of his hope Rustic Steel.

Victorian Umgawa is the latest of six withdrawals (including two emergencies) from the $1m 1300m feature, lessening the field to 13, and Newcastle’s sole representative has to overcome the outside barrier if he is to give the leading local trainer his first success in the city’s richest race after finishing second in each of the first three runnings (2019, 20 and 21).

Rustic Steel is Newcastle’s sole runner, and Lees says jockey Sam Clipperton will have to ride him conservatively to win.

“He could race more forward if he had drawn well, but we will have to go back from the outside,” he said this morning.

“Whilst we now have less horses to beat, the real concern is a smaller field often means a lack of speed.

“Rustic Steel is going to need the pace on to get over the top of them at the end.

“I’m sure he will be strong at the finish, but the 1300m second up may just be too short.

“Obviously winning a $1m race at home would be huge, but his main target is the $2m The Ingham (1600m) at Randwick on December 9.

“Rustic Steel will next go to the Festival Stakes (1500m) at Rosehill Gardens on December 2, and then The Ingham a week later.”

Rustic Steel won the inaugural running of The Big Dance at Randwick 12 months ago over the same course as The Ingham.

Since his eye-catching first-up seventh, surging from second last at the 400m, in the Group 3 Sydney Stakes (1200m) at Randwick on October 14, the six-year-old has had an 818m tick-over trial (close second to Sneaky Paige) at Warwick Farm on November 8.

Rustic Steel has an excellent home track record, having started three times at Broadmeadow for two wins, including a heat of the Provincial-Midway Championships (1400m) on February 24 last year, and a third in a Benchmark 88 Handicap (1400m) a month later.

Lees has six runners at The Hunter meeting, and these are his thoughts on his other five acceptors:

*ZOE’S PROMISE (F&M Benchmark 78 Hcp, 1400m): “Nice run at her first start for us at Rosehill over 1300m a fortnight ago. Back against her own sex and has trained on nicely since.”

*KIND WORDS (G3 Spring Stakes, 1600m): “She won her maiden well at Hawkesbury last week after coming back from Listed class in Sydney. It’s the right time to have a crack at this race, not being run at the Cup carnival in September any more, and she should get every chance from the rails draw.”

*ROGUE BEAR and TAVI TIME (Benchmark 78 Handicap, 1600m): “Rogue Bear wasn’t far behind his stablemate Loch Eagle in a 1500m Benchmark 88 Handicap at Randwick on November 7. He comes back in grade, but goes up 3.5kg. Tavi Time was luckless when resuming on the Kensington track on November 1 after a lengthy break, and is ready for the 1600m. He has a fair bit of upside, and should run well.”

*ACQUITTED (Benchmark 94 Handicap, 1300m): “The track should be perfect tomorrow after this morning’s rain, but more would certainly help his chances. Has won first-up before and was runner-up at Listed level at Randwick in July. Will definitely take improvement from this run.”

Lees rated Kind Words (each-way) and Tavi Time as his best chances at the meeting.

*Story John Curtis, November 15, 2023 - Pics Bradley Photos*

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