Expressway Stakes 2016: River Lad back in arena

Inheriting a Group One winner during the twilight of its career is a challenge that sits comfortably with River Lad’s new trainer Kris Lees.

Not much phases the Newcastle horseman who recently added the 2014 Stradbroke Handicap winner to his stable after the horse spent most of its career in Queensland with Natalie McCall.

Increasingly difficult to place in Brisbane racing, River Lad was sent to Lees in the hope the trainer might be able to find some suitable assignments for the eight-year-old before the rush of returning autumn carnival stars.

Lees’s immediate target is the Group Two Expressway Stakes (1200m) at Rosehill on Saturday, a race that marked River Lad’s only other foray into Sydney racing when he was runner-up to Appearance two years ago.

“I think he was getting a bit hard to place up there (in Brisbane) at this time of year,” Lees said.

“He’s one of those horses now, he’s in a very high grade being a Group One winner.

“He is an older horse so I’m just trying to place him right. I think he’ll be competitive against these horses and the fact he’s got a run under his belt probably helps.”

River Lad had raced just four times since his 2014 Stradbroke triumph, his best result a fourth to gun sprinter Chautauqua in that year’s Gilgai Stakes at Flemington.

He made a fleeting appearance at last year’s Brisbane winter carnival before Lees kicked off the horse’s latest campaign in the Takeover Target Stakes at Gosford.

Lees gave River Lad’s midfield performance a pass mark.

“His first-up run was satisfactory, it was good enough,” Lees said.

“He needed it, he’d been off the scene for quite a while and I think he will improve again (from Saturday).”

The resuming Our Boy Malachi and Godolphin’s Generalife dominate Expressway Stakes betting with smart mare Solicit also under double-figure odds.

River Lad’s stablemate Award Season was expected to be among the main chances for the Ascend Sales Trophies Handicap at Rosehill after the form from his last-start Gosford Cup placing was franked by Destiny’s Kiss winning the Australia Day Cup.

However, the likelihood of a rain-affected track in Sydney has prompted Lees to send Award Season north instead.

“He’ll go to Brisbane. It’s a more suitable race and he’s more likely to get a dry track there,” Lees said.


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