Protectionist will step back up to 3200 metres in the 2015 Sydney Cup at Royal Randwick on Saturday and trainer Kris Lees is hoping that there is plenty of tempo in the early stages of the race.
Protectionist sprinted impressively off a strong tempo when he recorded a dominant four lengths victory in the Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) at Flemington on November 4 last year and Lees told RSN this morning that the winning chances of the imported stayer will increase if the likes of Big Memory and Don Dormeo ensure that the Sydney Cup is run at a genuine tempo.
“He handles the ground and I am just hoping that it is run at some kind of tempo,” Lees said.
“History shows that some Sydney Cups are run at a lot slower tempo than a Melbourne Cup and if that is the case it will play into the hands of those horses with a good turn-of-foot, but if there is any tempo at all it certainly brings my bloke right into the race.
“A couple of those lighter weight horses might put a bit of tempo into the race and I am sure that Craig will be alert.
“We might have to get going a little bit earlier than we have been.”
Connections were hoping that Protectionist would be able to make the transition to weight-for-age racing during his autumn campaign, but it became apparent after the Monsun entire runs in the Group 2 Peter Young Stakes (1800m), Group 1 Australian Cup (2000m) and Group 1 The BMW (2400m) that he needed the 3200 metres of the Sydney Cup to perform at his best.
Lees is confident that Protectionist will relish the step back-up to his favourite trip, but he admits that the five-year-old faces stiff competition in the form of Godolpin galloper Hartnell, who will carry just 52 kilograms in the Sydney Cup.
“He has shown all along that it was likely we had to get him out to the two mile,” Lees said.
“We were hopeful that he would aim up when we took him down to Melbourne for those shorter races, but we were under no illusions that he would probably need then 2400 and then onto 3200.
“I thought his BMW run was good; he was back in the field and time wise it was going to be hard to make the ground up that he had to make up, but everything is suggesting that he is going to be suited now that he has got to the two mile.
“I suppose at the weights that Hartnell does look a weight certainty in the race in some sections, but two miles is a different beast.”
Protectionist is currently available at 2015 Sydney Cup odds of $4.60 with Ladbrokes and is on the second line of betting with Who Shot Thebarman, while Hartnell remains a clear favourite at a quote of $2.25.