Racing: Kris Lees-trained Luncies the sole local hope in group 3 Newcastle Cup

Kris Lees
Kris Lees

KRIS Lees will have the sole local runner in this week's Newcastle Cup with Luncies now arriving at his targeted race.

Lees, 12 months on from his breakthrough success in the Newcastle Cup (2300 metres), confirmed Luncies would contest the group 3 feature after nominations were released on Monday.

The five-year-old gelding was also listed for the Kingston Town Plate (2000m) at Randwick on Saturday, but Newcastle trainer Lees said he's opted to run at home on Friday.

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"He (Luncies) will go around in the Newcastle Cup," Lees told the Newcastle Herald.

"It's good to have a runner. It's a race we thought all along we'd look to run him in.

"Class wise he's probably getting to this grade a little earlier than preferred, as far as I would have liked to place him a bit softer along the way, but we haven't had the right races to set up.

"I think he can be competitive, but it's a jump in grade for him."

Among the Newcastle Cup nominations on Monday were this month's Wyong Cup winner Berdibek, Premier's Cup victor Harpo Marx from Kembla Grange on August 28, reigning Scone Cup champion Laure Me In, group 2 runner Quick Thinker and Taikomochi, which triumphed at last year's Kingston Town Stakes.

Hush Writer, prepared by Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott, was also listed and could return for a third straight appearance having clinched the title in 2019 and finished runner-up last year.

Mugatoo scored the main prize in 2020 for Lees, who has a chance to make it back-to-back Newcastle Cup wins and join the likes of fellow trainers Chris Waller (2015 - Beyond Thankful, 2016 - Sacred Master) and John Hawkes (2002 - Time Off, 2003 - Comforts).

"Probably not coming in with the same (expectation)," Lees said.

"He (Luncies) has had a similar lead-in to Mugatoo, but no doubt he's not in the same category as him. You never know, he's got a bit of upside this horse."

A UK import which arrived at Lees' stables earlier this year, Luncies won at Hawkesbury last preparation before resuming with a fifth in the Coffs Harbour Cup (1605m) last month and seventh in the group 3 Premier's Cup (2000m) a fortnight ago.

Luncies will be third up with a longer distance, enjoying his maiden race day at Newcastle.

"He's pretty familiar with the track, going round it every day. And this is probably the right trip for him, every indication has been he's looking for this journey," Lees said.

Waller has the most nominations with five - Criminal Code, Dashing Willoughby, Great House, Mohican Heights and No Compromise.

Newcastle's annual spring carnival program also includes the group 3 Cameron Handicap (1500m) and group 3 Tibbie Stakes (1400m), both worth $160,000 in prizemoney this Friday.

Lees has listed retiring mare Itz Lily in both events saying "I haven't decided which way to go yet, but she'll probably go to stud straight after the race". He also has six-year-old Think Free down for the Tibbie, but wasn't committed to starting.

Scone trainer John Ramsey has dual nominations with In Good Health and Never Listen while Bright Rubick is just entered in the Tibbie.

Newcastle's Paul Perry listed two hometown runners - group 1 Rosehill Guineas (2000m) runner-up Sky Lab in the Cameron and La Jolie Fille in the Tibbie.

Jay Hopkins has 12-year-old gelding Got Unders in the Cameron, the same race he won in 2017 just six months after being runner-up in Newcastle's group 3 Newmarket Handicap (1400m).

Upper Hunter trainer Rodney Northam put forward Country Championships (1400m) finalist Spiranac in the Tibbie.

Newcastle Jockey Club's general manager of racing and operations Duane Dowell said he "couldn't be happier" with the nominations and expects "good fields". There is also a Saturday meeting at Broadmeadow.

No crowds are allowed because of the Hunter's ongoing coronavirus lockdown.

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This story Luncies a lonesome local in Newcastle Cup first appeared on Newcastle Herald.