Clearly Innocent looks well-placed to add a Sydney Group One win to his record at Randwick but trainer Kris Lees has not ruled out stablemate Invincible Gem springing a surprise in the Canterbury Stakes.
A soft track, handy draw, the expertise of Hugh Bowman and the benefit of a first-up run have convinced punters Clearly Innocent deserves to be favourite to add to his Group One Kingsford Smith Cup triumph at Eagle Farm last May.
His Newcastle trainer also believes Invincible Gem is a worthy opponent as she races for the first time since colic surgery cut her spring campaign short.
“When they’re both on top of their game there wouldn’t be a lot between them,” he said.
“Clearly Innocent is probably preferred with a run under his belt but I’ve under-estimated her before and she’s very capable fresh.”
Invincible Gem, runner-up in the Group One Randwick Guineas (1600m) 12 months ago, has two wins and a placing first-up and will be ridden by Corey Brown.
Her previous preparation opened with victory in the Group Two Missile Stakes, a field that included highly rated stablemate and last year’s Canterbury Stakes winner Le Romain.
“She’s had three trials and although 1300 metres first-up is probably a little question mark she’s going to get the right run forward of midfield and that would give her a good chance,” Lees said.
He could see no downside for Clearly Innocent providing he does not experience a repeat of his luckless run in last month’s Group Three Southern Cross Stakes (1200m) where he was boxed in and checked in the straight.
“It sets his preparation up nicely. He’s suited to a three-week gap between and he prefers autumn tracks,” Lees said.
Barrier three and the Bowman factor were other bonuses.
Lees said the plan this preparation was to get Clearly Innocent to the Group One Doncaster Mile at Randwick on April 7.
“He’s never been to that distance but he’s always shown us he’s strong at 1400,” he said.
A clash with Winx in the Group One George Ryder Stakes (1500m) at Rosehill on March 24 would work towards that goal but there was a possibility of backing up in the Group Two Ajax Stakes (1500m) at Rosehill next Saturday.
Lees has also targeted the $3 million Doncaster Mile for Invincible Gem but admits she will be racing against the clock.
“Time-wise we might be cutting it fine so she may wait for the Queen Of The Turf a week later,” he said.