Champion trainer Gary Hall sen. is poised to win the Kennards Hire Christmas Gift final for a fifth time and wipe the names of legendary horsemen Lyle Lindau and Fred Kersley jun. off the record books when he starts leading candidates Toretto, Famous Alchemist and The Ragpickers Dream in the $35,000 feature event at Gloucester Park on Friday night.
Hall's prospects soared when Toretto drew the prized No. 1 barrier and Famous Alchemist the No. 2 spot in the 2130m race, in which The Ragpickers Dream will start from the No. 5 barrier on the front line.
Toretto, a five-year-old New Zealand-bred gelding and the least experienced runner in the Gift, was the fastest of the 12 qualifiers for the final when he charged home from ninth at the bell to win by more than two lengths from Hez The Bart Man last Friday night, rating 1.56.
The other heat winners were Sensational Gabby (1.57.1) and Red Salute (1.59.1). The Ragpickers Dream was beaten by a nose in the final stride by Sensational Gabby and Famous Alchemist impressed when she finished strongly to be second to the pacemaking Red Salute in the other qualifying heat.
Being the fastest qualifier (by a considerable margin) is no guarantee of success in the final. But from the inside barrier Toretto looks sure to start favourite and prove mighty hard to beat.
However, 12 months ago Sensational Gabby was the fastest of the qualifiers for the Christmas Gift and also drew the No. 1 barrier in the final in which she started equal favourite at 6/4 with Livingontheinterest and set the pace before wilting in the home straight to finish a disappointing ninth behind Livingontheinterest.
Livingontheinterest gave Hall his fourth victory in the Christmas Gift after he had been successful with Nixons Creed (1993), Allioop (2004) and McRaes Mate (2007).
The Gift was first run in 1963 when Alan Woodworth drove Johnny Scott to victory over Jack Junior. Since then Lindau and Kersley have each trained the winner of the Gift four times. Lindau has won the event with Beau Shannon (1964), Prince Shane (1968), Typhson (1974) and Oxford (1977) and Kersley has been successful with James Eden (1971), Pure Steel (1975), Nixon Adios (1976) and Neeron Boy (1980).
Hall, who landed the quinella in the 2007 Gift with McRaes Mate and Cosmic Legacy, has a good chance of providing the trifecta this year with Toretto, Famous Alchemist and The Ragpickers Dream, a rare feat which was achieved in the 2011 Gift when Greg andprepared the first three placegetters, Russley Rascal, Dundee Three and Talk It Up.
The Bonds will be represented this year by Our Major Mark, who maintained his sound form when he worked hard without cover and finished third behind Red Salute last Friday night. Our Major Mark, to be handled by, is unfavourably drawn at barrier six.
, who will drive his own nomination Old McDonald from the outside of the back line, has driven the winner of the Gift a record five times. He has won with Simeon Bay (1988), Julian Doe (1991), All The Answers (2002), Motu Treasure (2010) and Russley Rascal (2011).
Oakford trainerhas three runners in Friday night's feature --- heat winners Sensational Gabby and Red Salute and Hez The Bart Man, all of whom are racing with abundant enthusiasm. Olivieri's only success in the event was with 5/4 favourite Savette, who finished in second place in 1992 before being awarded the race after the winner Nero's Son returned a positive swab.
No mare has been successful since Savette. Sensational Gabby, Famous Alchemist and Lucie Boshier are the mares in this year's field.
After his fast-finishing victory in a heat, Toretto had an impressive record of eight wins and two placings from only 13 starts. Toretto is extremely versatile and will be suited in a pacemaking role. He started from barrier two when he led and won easily from Our Boy Su over 2130m at Gloucester Park four starts ago.
IMPRESSIVE GATE BENDER MAKES STRONG APPEAL
Few horses have been as impressive in recent months as Gate Bender was at Gloucester Park last Friday night and the New Zealand-bred eight-year-old has the ability to continue on his winning way when he starts from 20m in the $20,500 Kennards Hire Mount Eden-No Dill Christmas Handicap on Friday night.
Serpentine trainer Stephanie Smith produced the gelding in great shape for his first run for six months and he simply coasted to victory in a 2503m stand after galloping at the start and being a conspicuous last in the field of 12 with two laps to travel.
However, he unwound a splendid three-wide burst (with cover) from the 1300m to charge to the front 130m from the post and win by almost two lengths from Shardons Rocket.
This week, within the sulky, Gate Bender will start from the 20m mark and he looks highly capable of repeating the dose, particularly with a safe beginning.
Evergreen ten-year-old Salliwood, the only mare in the race, is a foolproof performer in stands and she appeals as the likely early leader.then will weigh up his options whether he continues to set the pace or to take a sit.
Salliwood started from 10m and raced three back on the pegs before finishing fast to be second to Uncle Kracker in last year's Christmas Handicap. She has raced in weaker company at her two most recent starts, both over 2503m, the distance of this week's race, when she set the pace and won from Shifting Sand and then finished second to Braemoor when the final 800m whizzed by in 56sec.
Braemoor should give Boyanup trainera good chance of victory after winning six times from his past 13 starts. Prentice also has high hopes with Gday Mate, another experienced standing-start performer who is in good form. Both New Zealand-bred seven-year-olds will start off the 20m mark.
Oakford trainer, who has prepared the second placegetter in three of the past five Christmas Handicaps (Our Dream Scene, 2008, Nickelmeldon, 2009, and Hustlers Crown, 2011) is hoping to go one better this year when he will be represented by 10m runners Pembrook Henry and Lord Coburn, each of whom is in sound form.
Shardons Rocket, the sole backmarker off 40m, maintained his consistent form for trainerwhen he started from 30m and finished second to Gate Bender last Friday night.
Backmarkers have a good record in the Christmas Handicap. Uncle Kracker won off 30m last year, Rocket Reign was the sole backmarker off 40m when he won in 2011, Alzona was the co-backmarker off 50m when he was successful in 2010 and Power of Tara was the sole backmarker off 40m when he won in 2008.
New Zealand-bred seven-year-old J Walker (20m) will have many admirers after his brilliant first-up performance last Friday week when he started from 20m and charged home from last to win in dashing style for young trainer-reinsman Robbie Williams.
THE No. 1 BARRIER POINTS TO LIVINGONTHEINTEREST IN SPRINT EVENT
Barrier draws have a significant influence in determining the outcome of races at Gloucester Park and when Livingontheinterest drew the prized No. 1 barrier in the 1730m Medic One Pace on Friday night he emerged as the likely winner.
The New Zealand-bred six-year-old, the youngest of the 12 runners, is a talented frontrunner who looks certain to set the pace and prove extremely difficult to overcome.
He is prepared by leading trainer Gary Hall sen., whose other runner Hokonui Ben looks Livingontheinterest's most serious rival after drawing the inside of the back line.
Friday night's event will be an excellent pipe-opener for the 1730m Village Kid Sprint the following week.
Veteran Sneakyn Down Under started from the No. 1 barrier in the 2130m Fred Doy Memorial last Friday night when he led and won from Hokonui Ben and David Hercules. Hokonui Ben raced in the breeze and fought on grimly, with the final 800m being covered in 56.7sec. Livingontheinterest started from barrier two on the back line and did not threaten danger. He raced in sixth position in the one-wide line before starting a three-wide move approaching the bell.
However, Livingontheinterest failed to sustain his effort and faded to eighth. But the inside draw on the front line this week will make a tremendous difference. Sneakyn Down Under went into last week's event with a losing sequence of 11 and unplaced at his previous six outings. But he was a firm third favourite at 7/2 because of the No. 1 barrier. He will be at much longer odds from barrier two on the second line this week.
Veteran Mysta Magical Mach, who will be making his fourth appearance after resuming from a six-month absence, faces a stern test from the outside of the front line and Dasher VC, being prepared for an assault on rich summer carnival events including the WA pacing Cup and Fremantle Cup, will need plenty of luck from barrier three on the back line.
SMART TRIAL GIVES SHNAPPY A HOPE AT HIS FIRST WA OUTING
Former Victorian pacer Shnappy has managed just one minor placing from nine starts since winning at Melton last May, but he should be prominent at his West Australian debut when he contests the 2536m Make Your Job Easy Pathway Pace at Gloucester Park on Friday night.
The seven-year-old has not raced since mid-July, but he caught the eye with a smart win in a 2150m trial at Byford on Sunday morning when he broke soon after the start and recovered to defeat Springsteen by a length at a 1.58.1 rate. He sprinted over the final two 400m sections of the trial in 28.8sec. and 27.9sec.
He is now being prepared byand will drive him from the No. 4 barrier in an event in which he will clash with some smart pacers including Vapour, Flyalong Falcon Grand Cru and Hez Got The Nod.
Shnappy has arrived in WA with a good record of ten wins and ten placings from 50 starts and will pay to follow.
Vapour, a New Zealand-bred four-year-old trained by Gary Hall sen., has the disadvantage of starting from the outside of the front line, but will have many admirers after winning at each of his first two starts in the State earlier this month. He raced 16 times in New Zealand for three wins and five placings.
Flyalong Falcon, a New Zealand-bred six-year-old trained by, has been most impressive since arriving in WA where his first five starts have produced four wins and a close last-start second to Art In Your face at Narrogin. Flyalong Falcon is the only runner off the back line.
by Ken Casellas