Relieved trainer Kris Lees headed to Melbourne yesterday in the knowledge Award Season would get the chance to continue his rise in the Australian staying ranks in the Mornington Cup.
Newcastle-based Lees has planned to run in-form import Award Season in today's $350,000 Mornington Cup (2400m) for more than a month but those aspirations were close to being over when the gelding was first emergency.
Lees had him nominated for a 2000m race at Flemington on Saturday as a back-up plan but the scratching of Dame Claire has paved the way for Award Season to take his place at Mornington. The winner of the race is guaranteed a start in this year's Caulfield Cup.
Lees sent Award Season to Mornington more than a week ago to ensure the 5-year-old was ready to put his best foot forward today.
He heads into the race on the back of three straight wins in NSW and is challenging Tuscan Fire for favouritism. "He arrived at Mornington last Sunday week and he's done all his work down there and been around on the course proper three times," Lees said yesterday.
"It's a tricky track and I looked at it and thought it was best for him to experience it as much as he could before the race.
"He's handled it really well and he's had experience racing that direction when he was in France. He raced that way a few times over there and had reasonable form."
Kerrin McEvoy elected to stick with Award Season over Mornington Cup Prelude winner Durnford.
Lees said the Caulfield Cup exemption was attractive.
But he isn't getting carried away thinking of a Caulfield Cup tilt just yet.
"He's got a long way to go to reach that level," he said.