Australian trainer Kris Lees carries in his smartphone an old, faded and grainy picture - itself a souvenir of a time long gone when cameras took photographs and phones were for phone calls - that recalls his first trip to Hong Kong.

The year was 1996 and Lees brought a horse called Potential Star to the Queen Elizabeth II Cup for his father, Max, an outstanding handler who trained the greatest two-year-old Australia has seen in the past 50 years, Luskin Star.

We flew up on a cargo plane and Chris and I and the two horses were up the back and the rest of the plane was filled up with bananas and oranges and all kinds of fruit and vegetables
Kris Lees

And on the plane with Lees was Chris Waller, now a record-assaulting juggernaut in Australian racing, but then working for New Zealand trainer Paddy Busuttin, who sent Sam McGuire for the same race.

Potential Star was eighth, Sam McGuire one place better, but as he showed off the faded image of himself and Waller yesterday at trackwork, Lees laughed at the different experience that was travelling horses internationally back then.

"This time it was pretty comfortable coming up, for me and the horse, nothing like in those days," he recalled.

"That's us in Hong Kong. We flew up on a cargo plane and Chris and I and the two horses were up the back and the rest of the plane was filled up with bananas and oranges and all kinds of fruit and vegetables.

"There were no movies or cocktails. It couldn't have been more different. But it was a great experience. I was a young bloke first time away and we did our work, of course, but it was a lot of fun - nothing for publication I'm afraid, but we had a great time."

At the end of 1998, Lees was back with another horse for his father, Corporate James, who finished ninth to Japan's Midnight Bet in the Hong Kong Cup when it was still 1,800 metres and the trainer of Lucia Valentina in this year's Longines Hong Kong Cup says the international events at Sha Tin were a big deal, but nothing like they are now.

"Realistically, the races didn't have the same hype. They weren't up to the grade they are now, so I'm under no illusions about what we're facing," said Lees, who took out his own licence in 2003 when his father died suddenly after a heart attack.

He has made his way into the upper echelons of trainers in Australia and is now, like Waller with Vase runner Preferment, making his first trip overseas as a trainer in his own right.

READ MORE: Our in-depth guide to this year's Cup contenders

"I think there are a few positive things for her. She's going to appreciate having the five weeks between runs, she is at her pet distance and the likelihood of a good tempo gives her a chance to run into the money.

"Any rain around would be a help, but I hear the track drains pretty well, so that might be too much to hope for."

Lees said Lucia Valentina's form at the 2,000m distance was what kept his eye on the possibility of a Hong Kong Cup tilt if she was in the right form, with six starts at the trip for three wins - two Group Ones and her last-start Group Two victory at Flemington - and champion jockey Damien Oliver sticks with her from that win.

"When she found some form at the end of the Melbourne carnival, that convinced me she was worthy of a trip," he said.

"She has travelled great, I can't fault her. Any weight she lost on the flight she put back on in a couple of days, which is a great sign, and she's a seasoned traveller anyway.

"A flight here is probably less time travelling than she spends in a road trip to Melbourne from my place at Newcastle.

"All the signs are good, it's such a strong race that you can't be confident, but it's an honour to be here at all," he said.

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