Apr 20

Our Lucia ready to go the distance

COMPETITIVE: Trainer Kris Lees, right, is confident Lucia Valentina has shown enough recently to prove she is a Melbourne Cup chance.Melbourne Cup: An idiot’s guide to betting

KRIS Lees has been to the Melbourne Cup before, but never like this.

For a racing fan like Lees, Flemington on Cup day is ultimate, and he has a real chance with Lucia Valentina.

The Newcastle trainer’s memories go back to 2003 when he had County Tyrone line up for a second crack at the Cup, only months after he had taken the reins of the stable after his father, Max, had died.

‘‘With County Tyrone, I did and I didn’t [get excited] because it was only a few months after Max passed away, and deep down I knew we couldn’t win,’’ Lees said.

‘‘This time, I know we have a chance, we are one of a number of chances in the race.

‘‘I think she has shown enough to say she will be competitive. She has given the indication that she will run the trip. She loves Flemington and it is hard not to get excited about her.’’

That is about as big of a rap that you will get from Lees for any horse. He was born to train horses, growing up around the stables at the 200m mark of the Newcastle racecourse, he knows talk is cheap.

‘‘If I was doing this I would be hard to place,’’ he said.

The Cup holds special memories for him, but Lucia Valentina could top them off.

‘‘This is the race that I remember having my first bet on when Salamander was beaten by Hyperno [in 1979], I think [I] was eight,’’ he said.

‘‘It is the race I got taken out of school for the day and went to Melbourne to see Max have his first runner, Spritely Native.

‘‘It means so much to Australia because it is our race.

‘‘To win it, well, I don’t want to think what it will mean.’’

The world has come full circle for Lees when it comes to the Melbourne Cup, with his children, Emerson and Marshall, taking the day off school for his biggest day as trainer.

‘‘I told them all the way along if she made the Melbourne Cup they could come, without being really sure if she would,’’ he said. “I think they were more certain than I was.’’

Lucia Valentina has put together a handy record and while she has never been to 3200m before, there is a quiet confidence in her chances. Lees doesn’t give much away when it comes to assessing his horses but the Caulfield Cup third to Admire Rakti was good enough to go down this course.

‘‘He just accelerated a bit better than her at Caulfield and we don’t know what he had left. She was brave and on the line she took ground off him,’’ Lees said.

‘‘She was strong at 2400m, but two miles [3200m] is a whole new ball game. The winner was too good at Caulfield but things didn’t go our way and I’m happy to have another crack at him.

‘‘She has always finished her races off, so I’m not sure when she is going to plateau and say ‘this is my optimum distance’ and she hasn’t done that yet.

‘‘Maybe we find out on Tuesday.’’