Trainer Kris Lees has taken a long-term view in his decision to remove blinkers from Graff and admits the gear change could come back to bite him in an all-star edition of the Concorde Stakes.
Graff has worn blinkers in each of his nine starts but unhappy with the horse’s racing manners last campaign, Lees has made the tough call to rip off the band aid.
“He just raced a bit fierce last preparation and we’re undecided what distance he’ll get out to, so I just want him to relax a little better,” Lees said.
“Possibly it’ll be detrimental on Saturday, but I think long term it’s the right thing.”
Graff finds himself in esteemed company for the Group Three Concorde Stakes at Randwick, a race shaping as a key Everest prelude with Redzel, Group One All Aged Stakes winner Pierata and outstanding mare Sunlight all holding slots for the $14 million October showpiece.
But it’s Nature Strip who has opened favourite as a five-time winner over the 1000 metres with Graff on the fourth line of betting in a compact market at $6.50.
While the four-year-old has not won at the distance, arguably Graff’s best run came over the distance first-up last preparation when he was fourth in the Lightning Stakes at Flemington, beaten less than a length by stablemate and Everest slot holder In Her Time.
Graff has subsequently undergone laser surgery to correct a small throat issue that Lees is sure hampered him last preparation and if the predicted strong tempo eventuates in the Concorde, it could play into his hands.
“He’ll be getting home strong but whether he can pick up those speedsters, we’ll see,” Lees said.
“I think he’ll be just behind the leaders and they’ll go pretty quick.
“He’s always been an exciting horse. He’s already proven himself at a top level and hopefully he can get back to where we thought he would be.”
With Brisbane Cup winner Sixties Groove scratched from the Group Two Chelmsford Stakes in preference for the Wyong Gold Cup, Invincible Gem will be Lees’ only other black-type runner at Randwick.
The mare will take her place in the Group Two Tramway Stakes (1400m) against New Zealander Te Akau Shark, who is being touted as an Epsom Handicap and possible Cox Plate contender, Doncaster Mile runner-up Dreamforce and Chris Waller’s promising Queensland Guineas winner Kolding.
But Invincible Gem still brings some of the strongest form lines to the race having finished second to top Godolphin mare Alizee in the Missile Stakes and third behind Samadoubt and Happy Clapper in the Group One Winx Stakes.
The sticking point is her outside barrier in the 14-horse field.
“She’s come back in good order and mares in form do tend to hold it,” Lees said.
“She needs a bit of luck from the gate but she’ll run very well.”