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Kris Lees found out one minute before the 7.30am deadline that third emergency Loch Eagle had made the cut to line up in today’s $2m The Ingham at Royal Randwick.
That was the start of a remarkable day for the leading Newcastle trainer, who prepared five metropolitan winners for the first time in his outstanding career – and qualified two horses for major Group 1s next year in the process.
Lees clinched a Randwick treble, with Loch Eagle's victory at $18 in the Group 2 feature being followed by Zoe's Promise ($2.90 favorite) in the Benchmark 78 Handicap, 1600m) and Brudenell ($6.50) in the Benchmark 88 Handicap (1100m).
Loch Eagle 's tough victory, after being forced to race wide from an outside draw, to run down Wyong trainer Sara Ryan's Big Dance winner Attractable ($8.50) automatically made him exempt from ballot for the Group 1 Doncaster Mile over the same 1600m distance at Randwick in April during The Championships.
Ninety minutes after Loch Eagle secured that exemption, stablemate Dream Hour ($17) at Eagle Farm scored a "free ticket" into next June's Group 1 Stradbroke Handicap (1400m) there by brilliantly winning the $300,000 The Gateway over the same trip.
Willinga Freefall's earlier victory as a $3.40 favorite in the Summer Provincial Series Final (1300m) was the first leg of Lees' Brisbane double, rounding out a "fab five" for the day.
"I've trained five winners in a day before, but not five on metropolitan tracks on the same day," a delighted Lees said en route home to Newcastle.
"It was a pretty special day; the horses raced so well. You always try to place them in suitable races."
Lees' gun apprentice Dylan Gibbons rode Loch Eagle and Brudenell, and Nash Rawiller partnered Zoe's Promise. The trainer's Randwick winners formed three of the four legs of the main quadrella, which paid $4556.40 on the NSW TAB.
Andrew Mallyon rode both his Eagle Farm winners, and Lees' major clients Australian Bloodstock were associated with the victories of Dream Hour, Willinga Freefall and Zoe's Promise in a big day for the leading syndicator.
In an amazing chain of events, Loch Eagle scraped into The Ingham field virtually at the last minute this morning.
When it didn't look as though he would get a start to join stablemate Rustic Steel (who finished eighth at $10), Gibbons was poised to ride first emergency Williamsburg, who had already made the line-up after Excellent Proposal was scratched yesterday.
When Williamsburg was withdrawn at 7.16am with a vet certificate, Festival Stakes winner Phearson's trainer Brad Widdup contacted Lees about Gibbons riding his horse as Loch Eagle still wasn't in the field.
Three minutes later, that all changed with the withdrawal of second emergency Military Expert, meaning his rider Reece Jones had to partner Phearson – and Loch Eagle was in.
Gibbons, who clinched a Group 1 breakthrough on $26 chance Explosive Jack in the Sydney Cup (3200m) at Randwick in April, won another $2m feature at headquarters, riding vigorously to overhaul Attractable in the closing stages.
Lonhro five-year-old Loch Eagle, a $230,000 yearling buy, has now six of his 25 starts (and been placed seven times) and earned nearly $1.8m.
Ironically, 12 months ago Lees had sent him to Queensland to contest The Gateway, where he finished fourth to Tick Tock Queen, beaten less than a length.
"It looked a nice race for him then, being good prizemoney and restricted to four-year-olds, and he came from well back but didn't quite get there," Lees recalled.
Loch Eagle may be headed to Queensland again for the Magic Millions Cup (1400m) at the Gold Coast's mammoth 11-race meeting on January 13.
"We'll see how he comes through this race, but it's something we've been looking at," Lees said of the gallant The Gong runner-up at his previous start (again from a poor draw).
"Rustic Steel didn't run badly; he was beaten just under three lengths. He was probably needing more give in the ground on such a very hot day."
Former Victorian Zoe's Promise, a $350,000 purchase at the Magic Millions National Broodmare sale at the Gold Coast in winter, won her first race for her new trainer (after metropolitan placings at Rosehill and Newcastle), and will run next in the $250,000 Group 3 Belle Of The Turf Stakes (1600m) against her own sex at Gosford on December 28.
Brudenell, an $80,000 yearling buy, has now won seven of his 13 starts and will be given the chance for a stakes breakthrough at Canterbury on New Year's Day.
"The Listed Canterbury Sprint (1200m) looks a nice target," Lees said. "He won his only start there earlier this year in February."
Lees' decision to put blinkers on another former Victorian Dream Hour paid dividends when he romped home in The Gateway, storming down the outside to score by nearly two and a half lengths.
"I just felt they might spark him up, and he always travelled like a winner in the run," he said.
"He's in the Stradbroke now, but I'm not sure what we will do with him in the immediate future. I'll have to digest it all."
But for Lees' eagle eye, it would have been four city winners instead of five.
He noticed earlier in the week that entries had been extended for the Summer Provincial Final for horses which had not won a metropolitan race in the last two years.
As a non-metropolitan winner, Willinga Freefall was eligible, so Lees added the lightly-raced five-year-old's name to the list of nominations and sent him north to his Gold Coast base.
The gelding appeared very suitably placed after recent placings on both the Kensington track and at Canterbury last month, and duly saluted after Mallyon gave him a faultless ride.
"I'll probably leave him up there, and see if we can pick up another race with him," Lees said.