Day At The Track

Lewis out to end a hoodoo

08:59 PM 22 Dec 2016 NZDT
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Brilliant New Zealand-bred five-year-old Im Full of Excuses.
Brilliant New Zealand-bred five-year-old Im Full of Excuses.
Jodie Hallows (Paceway Photos)

The Christmas Gift is one of the very few feature harness racing events that has eluded Chris Lewis and at Gloucester Park on Friday night he will have an excellent opportunity to right that wrong by winning the $35,000 group 3 race with rising star Im Full of Excuses.

Im Full of Excuses, a lightly-raced New Zealand-bred five-year-old trained by Ross Olivieri, has captured the imagination of harness racing fans with superb victories at each of his past seven starts.

However, he faces a serious moment of truth on Friday night when he starts out wide at the No. 8 barrier on the front line in the 2130m event and clashes with another up-and-coming star in Rub of the Green, who has drawn the prized No. 1 barrier.

Lewis, who is riding on the crest of a wave with three winners at Gloucester Park last Saturday night, four at Pinjarra on Monday afternoon and two at Gloucester Park on Tuesday evening, has driven in more than 30 Christmas Gift finals without success.

He has finished in second place five times --- behind Nippy Rendina (1990), Downtown Boy (1992), Regunya Boy (1993), Michael Leslie (1998) and Heez On Fire (2014). He has driven six Olivieri-trained pacers in a Christmas Gift without success --- Grand Canyon (third in 1995), Chequered Flag (fifth in 1996), Our Dream Scene (fourth in 2007), Few Good Men (fifth in 2010), Mon Gee (fourth in 2011) and Sensational Gabby (seventh in 2013).

Lewis, who is on the doorstep of notching his 5000th winner, is excited at the potential of Im Full of Excuses, declaring the Jeremes Jet gelding is still on a learning curve, but has a high cruising speed, an asset he revealed in a qualifying heat last Friday night when he set the pace and sped over the final quarters in 27.9sec. and 27.8sec. and rated 1.55.6.

Rub of the Green was equally impressive in winning his heat, rating 1.55.3, and trainer Michael Brennan said at the time: “If we draw to lead in the final and Im Full of Excuses had to sit outside of us, I don’t think he could beat Rub of the Green.”

Gary Hall jun. again will be in the sulky behind Rub of the Green and has a high opinion of the New Zealand-bred Mach Three five-year-old who has a splendid record of 28 starts for 16 wins, six seconds and one third.

Rub of the Green started from the outside barrier in his heat and raced at the rear before Hall sent him forward, three wide, approaching the bell. Rub of the Green quickly dashed into second place at the 500m mark and he sustained his effort to hit the front 100m from the post and win by a metre from the pacemaker Bronze Seeker.

“I was a little bit worried on the home bend,” Hall explained. “He’s a bit lazy and didn’t really knuckle down until I really got up him. I went from thinking I was in trouble on the home turn to knowing ‘we’re good’ within a stride. And that’s the good thing about him.”

Hall has already won the Christmas Gift twice, scoring with Livingontheinterest in 2012 and Tuxedo Tour in 2014.

A win to Im Full of Excuses would give Olivieri his third Christmas Gift after scoring with Savette (driven by Gary Lilleyman) in 1992 and Im A Peregrine (Stuart McDonald) last year.

Gary Hall sen. Is pinning his hopes on a sixth Christmas Gift on four-year-old King Lebron, who will be driven by his elder son Clint from the favourable No. 2 barrier. King Lebron won for the tenth time from 27 starts when he trailed the pacemaker Padabing Stride and finished powerfully to win a qualifying heat from Bounty Eyre last Friday night.

Hall sen. Has won the Christmas Gift with Nixons Creed (1993), Allioop (2004), McRaes Mate (2007), Livingontheinterest (2012) and Toretto (2013).

Livura, one of nine New Zealand-bred pacers in this week’s final, is in top form for trainer-reinsman Nathan Turvey. But his prospects diminished when he drew out wide at barrier seven. He gave a bold frontrunning performance to win his heat by four lengths from Rusty Rockets. But this week Turvey will be looking to give the five-year-old a soft run before relying on a strong finishing burst.

Ken Casellas


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