Mugatoo faces Cox Plate litmus test

Trainer Kris Lees is open when assessing the chances of Mugatoo in Saturday’s Cox Plate but believes he’s picked the right year to test his star import against the best weight-for-age horses in the country.

Lees opted to bypass last Saturday’s Caulfield Cup after plenty of deliberation in favour of testing his six-year-old at The Valley a week later.

The son of Henrythenavigator will be Lees’ third runner in the $5 million classic.

Superstar filly Samantha Miss ran third in the Cox Plate as a three-year-old for Lees back in 2008 while Luca Valentina pulled up lame and was eventually retired after finishing seventh in the 2016 edition.

“I’ve only had the two runners previously and I am pretty open about it, I don’t know where this bloke fits in,” Lees said.

Trainer Kris Lees has Mugatoo in the Cox Plate. Photo: Mark Evans/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

“We still don’t know where he fits in at this level and it’s a big step up from his last start Metropolitan to a Cox Plate.

“But we do think he will race well and definitely deserves his chance, it’s just whether he is up to this grade.”

With internationals limited due to the coronavirus pandemic and a distinct lack of a once-in-a-generation superstar like Winx, it’s shaping as one of the more open Cox Plate’s in recent years.

For that reason Lees was happy to test Mugatoo in the nation’s premier weight-for-age race over 2040m.

“Without being disrespectful, it doesn’t look like a Classic year,” Lees said.

“Over the past five years we have had Winx dominating and the brilliant mare from Japan last year.

“Obviously we still respect the internationals and the likes of Russian Camelot but it looks to me to be a pretty open race.”

It looked like Mugatoo would claim The Metrop but @nashhot lifted Mirage Dancer over the line to beat the favourite by the smallest of margins! pic.twitter.com/eZNRjRJjkN

Mugatoo finished runner-up to Mirage Dancer at his last start in the Group 1 The Metropolitan before Lees turned his focus to Melbourne.

The trainer gave Mugatoo his first look at The Valley on Saturday with his Cox Plate jockey John Allen aboard.

“He had a good gallop and look around there on Saturday which was pleasing,” Lees said.

“We will go back again tomorrow but we are really happy with him.

“John jumped off him and was pretty complimentary and couldn’t fault him.

“It’s a different thing raceday but he appeared to handle (the track) and I think most horses do.”

Mugatoo is a $34 chance for the Cox Plate with TAB.com.au with the final field and barriers declared on Tuesday.

Lees is also set to nominate Collide for the Group 2 Moonee Valley Gold Cup but is likely to wait until the Group 3 Lexus Stakes (2500m) to give the import his Australian debut.

Chief Ironside will be among the nominations to defend the Group 2 Crystal Mile that he won last year with a decision to be made later this week if he will run.

Originally published asLees import no Mug as Cox Plate test looms

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