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  • Provincial Racing NSW


ALMANIA has beaten both the odds and his rivals to cap a weekend of feature wins for Kris Lees.

The resilient eight-year-old, assisted by a heady Dylan Gibbons ride, today gave Lees his second Canberra Cup success – and his third black type victory in as many days.

Lees landed the $250,000 Group 3 Newcastle Stakes (1400m) at home last Friday – the fifth time he has won his home track’s feature autumn sprint in the last six years – with Rustic Steel ($12), and then the Listed Fireball Stakes (1100m) at Royal Randwick yesterday with $26 outsider Infancy.

Gibbons had Almania ($3.50) away smartly in the $250,000 Cup (2000m) and never let bold front-runner and $2.25 favorite So United out of his sights.

Almania challenged strongly on straightening and clearly outstayed Redstone Well ($6) and So United to post only his second win since the UK import was purchased by Australian Bloodstock in 2020 and joined Lees’ team.

A son of Australia, his Oz breakthrough came in a Benchmark 78 Handicap (1900m) at Rosehill Gardens 12 months ago.

But it is a miracle he is still racing, let alone following on from ex-stablemate Mugatoo’s Canberra Cup triumph four years ago.

“Almania has twice had tendon issues, and on both occasions had to have lengthy time off,” Lees said this afternoon.

“It’s great to see him win a good race, this being only his third start in the last 12 months.

“Dylan gave him a great ride. We wanted to ensure So United didn’t get his own way in front, and he couldn’t have ridden him any better.”

Narrowly beaten in the Listed Parramatta Cup (1900m) at Rosehill a fortnight ago, Almania will now head back there for his next start in the Group 3 Manion Cup (2400m) on Saturday week.

“He is in the Group 1 Sydney Cup (3200m) at Randwick on April 13, but has never been tried at the two miles,” Lees said.

“We’ll see how he performs in the Manion Cup.”

Rustic Steel, who ran his rivals off their legs in the Newcastle Stakes, will start next in the Group 3 Doncaster Prelude (1500m) at Rosehill on March 30.

He has also been nominated for the Group 1 Doncaster Mile at Randwick a week later, but again Lees has deferred a decision on a start there until after his Prelude run.

Lees admitted to Infancy’s victory in the Fireball being “a bit of a surprise”, but said the fast pace enabled her to overpower her rivals at the end.

She will be “kept on ice” and go back to Randwick for the opening day of The Championships on April 6 to target the Group 3 PJ Bell Stakes (1200m) for three-year-old fillies.

Dylan Gibbons rode both Rustic Steel and Infancy, and Sam Clipperton partnered Rustic Steel, who lifted his career earnings to almost $2m with his Newcastle Stakes win.

Lees will nominate Provincial Midway-Championships favorite Tavi Time for a Benchmark 88 Handicap (1400m) at Rosehill on Saturday, and make a decision later in the week whether he lines up en route to the $1m Final (1400m) at Randwick on April 13.

Story John Curtis, March 10, 2024 - Pics Bradley Photos

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