Trainer Kris Lees has revealed that talented stayer Protectionist still may not be sharp enough to win the 2015 Australian Cup at Flemington this weekend.
Protectionist stamped himself as one of the best stayers in the world when he recorded a dominant four lengths victory in the Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) during the 2014 Spring Racing Carnival, but he was unable to replicate that performance over 1800 metres in the Group 2 Peter Young Stakes (1800m) at Caulfield on February 28.
Lees told RSN that Protectionist had trained on strongly coming out of the Peter Young Stakes, but he was still concerned that the Monsun entire did not have the speed in his legs to win the 2015 Australian Cup.
“He is really well,” Lees said.
“He did a little bit of work this morning and he is in good order.
“He probably ran up to our expectations, he just hasn’t looked sharp enough for them sort of races.
“It was the typical run of a stayer and you hope these horses come back sharp enough for these shorter races, but as we got closer to the race it looked like he was just a genuine stayer.
“That is still our concern going into Saturday’s race, but I am pleased with the way that he is coming up and he is a genuine stayer.
“He is a lovely horse to train.”
While Lees is worried that Protectionist may be too dour to win the 2015 Australian Cup, he is also adamant that there are a number of factors in his favor that can help him return to winning form in the Group 1 event.
Lees said that Protectionist clearly relished the strong Flemington straight in the Melbourne Cup and the return to the bigger track could help him hit the line strongly, while the presence of The Cleaner will ensure that there is plenty of early speed in the Australian Cup.
“I think that we will see the best of him at his next run when he gets to a mile and a half, but I still think he can be effective on Saturday,” Lees said.
“With the extra 200 metres and the return to Flemington, there is plenty to say that he can get a lot closer to these horses, but just whether things pan out and he can win the Australian Cup I am still guarded about.”
Protectionist is currently available at Australian Cup odds of $5.50 with Ladbrokes, while Happy Trails has been backed into $4.80 and is now an outright favourite.