Kris Lees trio set for The Hunter

By his own lofty standards, Newcastle horseman Kris Lees has had a quiet start to the season but he is hoping to make his presence felt at his hometown’s feature meeting of the year.

With star galloper Mugatoo sidelined for the spring, Lees hasn’t had a banner horse to carry his carnival hopes but experience has taught him it is just part of the swings and roundabouts of racing.

“We haven’t really got a headline horse at the moment, but it will come around,” Lees said.

“That’s the game.

“Mugatoo is back in light work, what we call rehab work. He’ll be back towards the end of the autumn and everything is on track.”

Lees will have at least three runners in the $1 million The Hunter (1300m) on Saturday, including 2021 Newcastle Newmarket winner Gem Song, along with Special Reward and Countofmontecristo.

Gem Song hasn’t raced since finishing fifth to Think It Over in the Group 1 George Ryder Stakes in March but has tuned up for his return with two barrier trials.

He boasts an outstanding first-up record with two wins and as many placings from five starts, but Lees is mindful The Hunter will be a tough race with Classique Legend Stakes runner-up Lost And Running being targeted at the rich feature.

“Lost And Running is there, so I think it’s going to be the strongest we’ve had in the three years it has been held,” Lees said.

“Gem Song ran in the George Ryder after winning the Newcastle Newmarket and he’s been off since then with this race in mind.

“We scratched him out of the Doncaster (Mile). He just wasn’t 100 per cent so we thought we’d give him a chance to have a break and just run him sparingly. He’ll only have a couple of runs again and be put away for the wet season.”

Former Singapore galloper Countofmontecristo is also scheduled to resume in The Hunter, while Special Reward heads there third-up after two unplaced runs, the latest when beaten less than three lengths by Southern Lad in the Choisir Handicap at Randwick on Melbourne Cup day.

Lees says the horse is going well at home and his recent form is better than it appears on paper.

“He’s going better than the form guide reads,” Lees said.

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