NEWCASTLE trainer Kris Lees has saddled up the most runners in the richest race on turf, the $14 million The Everest, with five and he had a starter in the new $7.5 million Golden Eagle last week.
But for Lees, a racing purist with a lifetime in the sport, there's still no bigger event in Australia than the Melbourne Cup (3200 metres).
"There's new races coming through that in time may challenge, but the Melbourne Cup is still Australia's race, there's no denying that," said Lees, who is preparing Mustajeer for Tuesday's Cup.
"If anyone has grown up with any interest in racing, they've had an affinity with the Melbourne Cup."
Lees will have his third starter in the $8 million race at Flemington on Tuesday when Mustajeer jumps from gate six.
County Tyrone was 15th for the stable in the 2003 edition, a little more than two months after Lees' father, champion trainer Max, died from cancer. The same horse had finished 11th in 2002 for the Lees camp.
Lees guided Lucia Valentina to the race in 2014, when Hunter syndication company Australian Bloodstock won with Protectionist. The Lees-trained mare finished 13th.
This time around, Australian Bloodstock have entrusted Lees with their import's Cup campaign, which has featured foreman Cameren Swan overseeing Mustajeer's preparation from quarantine in Newmarket, England, two months ago.
Lees has regularly been to Melbourne in recent weeks to check on his spring carnival team and he was confident Mustajeer was ready to improve on his sixth in the Caulfield Cup when on debut for the stable.
"It's been a new experience for us," Lees said of the preparation.
"Cameren has been with the horse the whole time and he's done a wonderful job, so we're pretty confident we've got him there as good as he can be. Where that means he runs, I don't know, but it's all we can do.
"It's a really open field this year.
"There's a stack of chances and I probably feel he's one of them."
Mustajeer was out to $21 with TAB Fixed Odds on Monday.
Lucia Valentina ($7) was shorter in the 2014 Cup market, but Lees was confident Mustajeer was better suited to the two-mile test.
The seven-year-old's last start before coming to Australia was a brilliant win in Europe's richest flat handicap, the Ebor, over 2787m, at York. It was the former Ger Lyons-trained gelding's biggest and longest race win and Lees believed it pointed to a strong run over 3200m.
"She was always a bit of a risk at the trip," he said of Lucia Valentina, a three-time group 1 winner at 2000m.
"She was a brilliant 2000m horse. She ran a slashing third in the Caulfield Cup, which put her into the [Melbourne Cup] market, but it was a pretty brutally run Cup that year and this one is probably more of a genuine stayer.
"He's still got to get the trip but he's been strong at 2800, so I think he'll run it out."
Lees has a long association with Australian Bloodstock, who have helped his Newcastle stable become one of the biggest and most successful in Australia.
"They've been integral to any success I've had in the last five or 10 years," Lees said.
"They've been tremendous help and I'm very grateful, very fortunate. They are very good at what they do."
The combination also have Tactical Advantage (listed 1200m race) and Aliferous (1700m race) competing at the Flemington meeting.
"They are both going well," Lees said.
"It might be a little short for Aliferous, but we'll probably step her up to 2000 metres off the run.
"Tactical Advantage is going really well and I expect him to run well.
"It's a similar grade to his last runs, but it's up to 1200."