Maras Ace Man Defies the Odds

Outstanding young horseman Michael Grantham has high hopes of completing a remarkable rags to riches story by driving the once despised no-hoper Maras Ace Man to victory in the Group 3 $30,000 John Higgins Memorial at Gloucester Park on Friday night.

Grantham took a calculated gamble five months ago when he answered an advertisement and outlaid $1500 to purchase the burly seven-year-old. It is a decision he has not regretted. He offered a share in the gelding to a good friend, Kurt Pellington, a Byford painter, and he has prepared the pacer for nine starts for five wins, two seconds, one third and one fifth placing for $24,766 in stakes.  

This is a wonderful achievement for the 23-year-old Grantham, who is expected to make a spirited bid for the early lead, with Maras Ace Man favourably drawn at barrier two on the front line in Friday night’s 2130m event.

Maras Ace Man is a smart beginner, without being exceptionally fast. His only all-the-way success for Grantham was at his first appearance for his new trainer when he led from the No. 1 barrier and coasted to a six-length victory over Newsletter in a 2100m event at Bunbury’s Donaldson Park on April 20. He gave his rivals virtually no hope by dashing over the final quarters in 28.8sec. and 27.6sec.

He warmed up for this week’s assignment in fine style with a convincing victory at a 1.56.3 rate over 2130m at Gloucester Park on Tuesday of last week. He started from barrier two and Grantham sent him to the front after 350m.

That followed an unlucky third behind Son Of A Tiger and Courage Tells in a qualifying heat of the Higgins Memorial at Narrogin the previous Tuesday. He started from the No. 1 barrier but was beaten for early speed by Son Of A Tiger, who began with a dazzling burst of speed from barrier five. Maras Ace Man gained a perfect trail behind the pacemaking Son Of A Tiger but was blocked for a clear passage in the final stages.

Maras Ace Man’s transformation under the care of Grantham has been significant. Before being bought by Grantham, Maras Ace Man had had 95 starts for just one win and eight placings. He was beaten by a combined total of 2886.8 metres (or 962.3 lengths), an average losing margin of 10.2 lengths or 30.7m.

Maras Ace Man is by American stallion Lis Mara and is the sixth and last foal out of Sassy Lady, who won once (at Bunbury in July 2004) from nine starts. Apart from Maras Ace Man, the only one of her foals to race was her first foal, Playitbyear, who failed to be placed at seven starts as a two and three-year-old. Playitbyear was beaten by a combined margin of 538.7m, an average losing margin of 76.8m.

Maras Ace Man’s chief rivals this week appear likely to be Son Of A Tiger and Convert Denario.

Son Of A Tiger, a New Zealand-bred four-year-old, will be driven by Shannon Suvaljko for Serpentine trainer Matt Scott. A winner at three of his 13 starts in New Zealand, the American Ideal gelding is unbeaten at his three starts in Western Australia and is poised for a bold showing at his first appearance at Gloucester Park.

Son Of A Tiger has revealed blistering gate speed in setting the pace and winning effortlessly at Narrogin at his past two outings, as well as in an impressive 2150m victory over Ace Bromac in a Byford trial on Sunday morning when he sped over the final two 400m sections in  28.1sec. and 27.9sec.

Suvaljko will be unable to use Son Of A Tiger’s early brilliance on Friday night when the gelding will be the only runner off the back line. However, Son Of A Tiger is certainly not exclusively a frontrunner. At his WA debut, at Wagin on June 21, he started from barrier four on the back line and raced at the rear before exploding with a three-wide burst from tenth at the bell to move to the breeze at the 300m mark on his way to surging to the front 130m from the post and winning by just over a length from Sammys Ideal.

The lightly-raced Convert Denario, a New Zealand-bred five-year-old, is in splendid form for Serpentine trainer Clint Hall, who has engaged champion reinsman Chris Lewis to drive the Changeover gelding for the first time.

After four wins from ten starts in Victoria, Convert Denario has raced seven times in WA for four wins and two placings. In a heat of the Higgins Memorial at Pinjarra on Monday of last week, Convert Denario started from back line and settled in tenth position. He was eighth at the bell and started a three-wide move at the 750m mark to take a narrow lead 500m from home. He was a length in front at the 100m before being beaten a neck by the fast-finishing Rockaball.

He scored stylish victories at Pinjarra and Bunbury last month. A month earlier, he made his WA debut and his first appearance for 14 months when he finished boldly from sixth at the bell to win easily from Maras Ace Man, who charged home from last with 450m to travel in the 2150m event at Pinjarra.

Lewis will be seeking his fifth victory in the Higgins Memorial --- after scoring with Hail The Judge (1997), Our Graedy (1998), Ianalbert (2006) and Sneakyn Down Under (2008).

Colin Brown, who has driven a record five winners of the Higgins Memorial (Valiant Soldier, 2003, Money Magnet, 2004, Richard Henry, 2005, Delightful Offer, 2015, and Tyler Brett, 2018) will be in the sulky behind his consistent mare Amelias Courage, whose prospects diminished after drawing out wide at barrier eight.

Forrestdale trainers Greg and Skye Bond will be pinning their hopes with 11-year-old Courage Tells, who caught the eye when he finished strongly from eighth at the bell to be second to Son Of A Tiger in a qualifying heat at Narrogin. Courage Tells (barrier five) will be handled by Ryan Warwick, who is in superb form in the sulky.

Greg Bond prepared Money Magnet and Richard Henry for their wins in the Higgins Memorial and he and his wife were the trainers of Delightful Offer when he was victorious in 2015 and Rock Diamonds when he started from the No. 5 barrier and Warwick brought him home from fifth at the bell to defeat Sprinter and Ideal Tyson in 2017.

Ross Olivieri, who prepared Hail The Judge for his win over Bay Admiral and Skybird in the 1997 Higgins Memorial, will be represented by consistent five-year-old Dennis, who will be driven by Mitch Miller and has sound prospects from the prized No. 1 barrier.