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An indifferent autumn carnival from Protectionist has prompted Kris Lees to adopt a fresh approach with the Melbourne Cup winner, starting with his return race at Randwick.

Protectionist will resume in the Group Two Tramway Stakes over 1400m, the shortest distance he has tackled.

The race is part of a plan to give the horse a traditional Australian build-up to a defence of the Melbourne Cup title he won under German trainer Andreas Wohler.

“He obviously didn’t come up to our expectations in the autumn,” Lees said.

“There were numerous contributing factors and possibly one of them was that he had to race up over a distance quite quickly. We are going to build him up more slowly this time.”

Stablemate Lucia Valentina also returns from an autumn in which she didn’t hit the heights anticipated.

Lees admits the mare raced a length below her best in Sydney, a situation compounded by her transition to weight-for-age company and some strong opposition.

But he is confident she has returned in similar condition to last spring when she won the Tramway first-up before claiming the Group One Turnbull Stakes in Melbourne and placing in the Caulfield Cup.

“She’s giving me similar signs and she needs to go to the races, she’s very well and she needs a good blow out,” Lees said.

“She won’t be going to the Melbourne Cup again but in a perfect world, if she’s good enough, she could end up in the Cox Plate.

“There are a lot of options for a mare like her.”

A full field will contest the Tramway Stakes with First Seal the $3.60 favourite while there has been specking for the Chris Waller-trained Flamingo Star and Arabian Gold who will have her first run for Gai Waterhouse.

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