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Lees reaching for the stars

Coming off another record-breaking season, Kris Lees has no intention of slowing down.
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Kris Lees at Randwick last month. Picture: AAP

And the Newcastle trainer hopes a more attractiveassignment for Reach For Heaven at Randwick on Saturday can help kick-start his new campaign.

Reach For Heaven has gate one for the benchmark 82 handicap (1200m) and is backing up from an encouraging first-up fourth at Rosehill over the same distance on July 14.

The five-year-old gelding, out of barrier eight,was near last on the home turn before making up plenty of ground down the inside in the race won by Star Of Monsoon. Peter and Paul Snowden’s Smartedge was second and Reach For Heaven meets it three kilograms better this time around.

“He gets in well, he’s got a reasonably good second-up record, so there’s a few positives for him,” Lees said.

“But that said, he’s a horse who gets back and he needs a few things to go his way, but he’s more than capable on his day.”

Lees, searching for his first win this season, also has German import Vive Marie on debut in Australia in the 1400m benchmark 82 at Randwick.

The five-year-old mare was placed twice at listed level in Germany before Hunter syndicators Australian Bloodstock brought her to Lees.

She has trialled twice, winning her most recent effort at Newcastle on July 12.

Newcastle jockey Andrew Gibbons gets the chance in town after James McDonald had to reject the mount when weights dropped two kilograms.

“She’s one we’ll learn more about watching her step out,” Lees said.

“She’s worked well. She’ll probably be better suited over further, but it will be interesting to see how she goes.”

Lees’ team headto the first Saturday metropolitan meeting of the new season celebrating another milestone.

Lees trained a personal-best 191 ½winners nationwide –30 more than the previous season’s benchmark –and he was fifth in the premiership. He was third in NSW with 177 ½–just behind Godolphin’s James Cummings (179).

The records continue a steep rise for Lees, who had 158 winners in NSW in 2016-17 and 95 in 2015-16. Before that, his best state effort was 112 (2014-15).

Lees was pleased with the return but was always looking to improve.

“It’s a good year numbers-wise but we’ve got more horses now, so you need to be winning more races,” Lees said.

“We’ve continued to build so you’ve got to keep going that way.

“We’ve got good numbers now but we can probably handle some more, but you want to concentrate more on quality if possible.

“Everything is working smoothly.We’ve got good staff and everyone is working well together, and that’s what makes things happen.”

Lees said he had improved stables at Newcastle Racecourse and was looking to build on his Ellalong Farm operations and snare more winners in Queensland, where he uses Mel Eggleston’s Gold Coast property as a base.

“Itworks in pretty well with our farm and what we’ve got there,” Lees said of his trackside stables at Newcastle.

“There’s 150 acres at the farm and at some stage we’ll probably look to expand the stable occupancy there, but that’s a bit further down the track.

“We’ll also probably increase our presence in Queensland over the next few months.”

Meanwhile, the Paul Perry-trained Gadfly was vying for early favouritism with Stirling Osland’s Radiant Choice for the Bengalla Cup (1280m) on Sunday at Muswellbrook.

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