Day At The Track

Now it's Ryan Warwick's turn

03:06 PM 20 Dec 2018 NZDT
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Ryan Warwick,Harness racing
Gloucester Park

The Warwick family, famous in harness racing, has a strong affinity with the Christmas Gift and at Gloucester Park on Friday night Ryan Warwick will be all out to join his late grandfather, his father, uncle and cousin on the honour board of the Group 2 feature event.

The 40-year-old Warwick will drive Saying Grace, an up-and-coming star who is prepared by leading trainers Greg and Skye Bond and is sure to start a short-priced favourite after drawing favourably at barrier No. 2 on the front line in the 2130m $50,000 Christmas Gift.

Saying Grace arrived in Western Australia from New Zealand just three months ago and has established an enviable reputation, with his first eight starts in the State producing five wins and two seconds after a first-up failure when he was finishing powerfully to move into second place and was looking the winner before he broke into a fierce gallop 220m from home.

He has won eight of his past 11 starts, including victories at his final three appearances in New Zealand in August this year.

Warwick is in dazzling form in the sulky with 83 wins from 176 drives in WA this season to hold a lead of 30 over his nearest rival Chris Lewis in the Statewide drivers’ premiership table.

His grandfather Bill Warwick trained Swanky Lobell, who was driven by his (Ryan’s) father Colin when he won the 1986 Christmas Gift from Prince Feisal and Maxwell Hook. Colin also was in the sulky when Trunkey Limousine, trained by his brother Trevor (Ryan’s uncle), won the Christmas Gift from The Prospectus and Simeon Bay in 1989.

Trevor Warwick also won the Christmas Gift as a trainer and driver with Innocent Mac (1995) and Hy Falutin (1999). Justin Warwick, Trevor’s son and Ryan’s cousin, trained and drove Ted Barry when he won the 1998 Christmas Gift from Michael Leslie and Plenty of Cash. Justin then drove Lord Miles to victory over The Die Is Cast and Chivalrous Fella in the 2001 Gift.

Saying Grace warmed up for Friday night’s race in superb style last Friday night when he started out wide at barrier eight in a heat of the Gift. He raced three wide for the first 300m and then in the breeze outside the pacemaker and 5/2 on favourite Kimani before slipping into overdrive and forging to the front 380m from home. He sprinted over the final quarters in 27.7sec. and 27.8sec. and was not extended in winning by 4m from Kimani.

The powerful Bond stable will also be represented in this year’s Christmas Gift by evergreen 11-year-old Courage Tells, who will start from the inside of the back line with Dylan Egerton-Green in the sulky. A veteran of 201 starts, Courage Tells is racing enthusiastically and should enjoy a perfect passage throughout.

The Bonds have won the Christmas Gift with Motu Treasure in 2010 and Russley Rascal in 2011. Russley Rascal, a 7/2 chance driven by Colin Brown, beat stablemates Dundee Three (13/4) and Talk It Up (a $95 tote outsider).

The Christmas Gift, first run in 1963, is one of very few feature events that has eluded champion reinsman Chris Lewis. He will drive smart mare Madame Meilland, who is prepared by Ross Olivieri, who has won the race with Savette in 1992 and Im A Peregrine in 2015.  Madame Meilland, an excellent third to Saying Grace and Kimani last week, is awkwardly drawn at barrier six.

Hall of Fame trainer Gary Hall Snr has won the event a record six times with Nixons Creed (1993), Allioop (2004), McRaes Mate (2007), Livingontheinterest (2012), Toretto (2013) and Herrick Roosevelt (2017). His only runner this year, Kimani, has had seven starts in his current campaign for one win and five seconds. He faces a stern test from out wide at barrier eight.

Walkinshaw, trained at Mt Helena by Ray Williams, was an unlucky short half-head second to Herrick Roosevelt in last year’s Gift and he is sure to prove one of Saying Grace’s toughest rivals on Friday night. A winner of six races from 37 starts in New Zealand and nine from 20 starts in WA, Walkinshaw is sure to be prominent from barrier five. He sustained a powerful three-wide burst over the final 1000m to snatch victory from Debt Free Charlie last Friday night.

The Mike Reed-trained The Art Form and the Annie Belton-trained Gotta Go Gabbana are racing keenly, but will need plenty of luck from awkward draws.

 

Ken Casellas

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