After years of trying and falling short, Kris Lees has finally landed a longed-for Newcastle Cup win with outstanding prospect Mugatoo.
The Novacastrian trainer had coveted a victory in his hometown feature but until Friday it had proven elusive.
It was also a hoodoo race for his late father and legendary trainer Max Lees, who despite a decorated career was unable to bag the local showpiece.
Kris Lees was relieved to finally break the family’s run of outs and said winning the Newcastle Cup (2300m) meant a lot, not only to him but also owners Australian Bloodstock, whose directors hail from the Hunter region.
“It’s not a time-honoured event for others but it’s our hometown Cup and it has meant a lot to a lot of people, the staff and Australian Bloodstock,” Lees sad.
“I’m very relieved but very grateful too.”
Ridden by Kerrin McEvoy, Mugatoo ($2.40 fav) settled midfield and inched closer to the leaders approaching the corner.
He took a few strides to wind up with his 59kg impost, the biggest Cup weight carried to victory in more than 20 years, but once he balanced up he put paid to last year’s winner Hush Writer ($5) to score by 1-1/2 lengths.
The Lees-trained Attention Run ($26) was another half-length away.
Lees said Mugatoo had a bright future and could now be set for the Group One Epsom Handicap.
“I’d suggest he is probably Epsom-bound, we’ll see. If he gets a penalty, we might have to go elsewhere,” Lees said.
The Hawkes Racing-trained Rock took out the Group Three Cameron Handicap (1500m) for the second year in succession and is also likely to head to the Epsom.
Co-trainer Michael Hawkes said a firm track was the key to his return to form.
“He just seems to love it here and he’s right on path for his third run in the Epsom,” Hawkes said.
John O’Shea took out the Group Three Tibbie Stakes (1400m) with up-and-coming mare All Saints’ Eve.