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  • Provincial Racing NSW


THERE’S a “sense of occasion” about Kris Lees winning another The Ingham at Royal Randwick on Saturday.

Seven years have passed by since the leading Newcastle trainer won Sydney’s summer highlight - then known as the Villiers Stakes - with $31 chance (bigger odds were bet) Sense Of Occasion (Ben Melham).

Whilst the Villiers carried a $250,000 purse at that time, it has been renamed and now is worth $2m, and Lees has Rustic Steel (Sam Clipperton) primed to capture a fourth 1600m feature.

Both Sense Of Occasion and Rustic Steel are geldings and, like the former who was a six-year-old when successful, the latter is the same age as he attempts to add to his The Coast, Scone Cup and inaugural Big Dance triumphs last year (all at 1600m).

Lees backed up Rustic Steel at Scone six days after taking The Coast at Gosford, and is following a similar path with the gelding, who enhanced his Ingham claims with a close third in last Saturday’s Group 3 Festival Stakes (1500m) at Rosehill Gardens, and now drops 1kg to 56.5kg.

“I’ve done a little bit of work with Rustic Steel this week, and he is in great order,” Lees said.

“Rustic Steel had a long time off (around 11 months) because of bone bruising, and we targeted The Ingham when he returned.

“He is fourth up now, and I’m sure has taken further improvement from his Rosehill run last week when he presented as the winner and just levelled out near the end.

“He drew the outside barrier both times at his first two runs back in the Sydney Stakes (1200m) at Randwick and The Hunter (1300m) at home, and has come up with the opposite for Saturday, and some of his main rivals (including first and second favorites Detonator Jack and Osipenko) haven’t drawn so well.

“Rustic Steel should get an economical run from the rails draw, and I’m expecting him to give another great account of himself.”

Lees also accepted with Loch Eagle, but as third emergency, is not sure he will secure a start. Stable apprentice Dylan Gibbons is expected to switch to unlucky Festival runner-up and first emergency Williamsburg, who has made the field following the withdrawal of Excellent Proposal, should Loch Eagle miss out.

Loch Eagle easily won a Benchmark 88 Handicap (1400m) at Randwick on November 7 and put up a very gutsy performance after racing wide when runner-up to Ingham favorite Detonator Jack in the $1m The Gong (1600m) at Kembla Grange on November 25.

Lees also has Zoe’s Promise (Nash Rawiller) and Brudenell (Dylan Gibbons) engaged in the Benchmark 78 Handicap (1600m) and Benchmark 88 Handicap (1100m) respectively.

“Zoe’s Promise has raced well at both runs for us, and was good at Newcastle at The Hunter meeting when just caught by Lekvarte, who has won again since,” he said.

“She has drawn awkwardly but will roll across. If she doesn’t have to work hard, I’m sure she can be very competitive again.

“Brudenell has taken improvement from his first-up run in an Open sprint at The Gong meeting, and comes back to a Benchmark 88.

“From an inside draw, he can definitely figure in the finish.”

Lees scored with Yankee Hussel at Gosford yesterday, so she won’t line up at Canterbury tonight in the Benchmark 72 Handicap (1900m), and Baltic Coast is also an absentee from the Benchmark 78 Handicap (1550m) after drawing the outside barrier.

. There are three provincial runners in the Ingham; this year’s Big Dance winner Attractable (Sara Ryan) and last week’s Group 3 Festival winner Phearson (Brad Widdup) being the others.

Attractable hasn’t raced since landing the $3m Big Dance over The Ingham course at Randwick on November 7, but had a nice tick-over 1200m trial there on November 28, running home stylishly to finish a close fourth under his race rider Regan Bayliss.

Widdup has Reece Jones on standby to ride Phearson if his current booking, second emergency Military Expert, does not make the cut.

*Story John Curtis, December 8, 2023 - Pics Bradley Photos*

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