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By Duane Ranger
New South Wales visitor, Nathan Xuereb, will get his first feel of Albion Park at 8.24pm on Friday and then, just under 24 hours later, he will create a personal milestone.
“I can’t wait until Saturday. Tonight will give me a good feel for the track and then tomorrow I will get to own, train, and drive one in my first Group One event," he told Racing Queensland.
“To say I’m excited is a bit of an understatement,” said Xuereb, who ran down the field in his only other two Group One starts in his home State a month ago.
The 22-year-old will drive the son of Rock N Roll Heaven, Fifteen Aces, in the $350,000 Australian Pacing Gold Final for the 2YO colts and geldings.
The talented black gelding will be looking for his third victory after winning twice and placing once from his three career starts.
“We obviously bought him at the APG Sale for $15,000. That’s how he got his name. I know we will be up against it on Saturday, but if he can get a nice run in behind the favourite then he does have a lethal sprint which might take him close,” Xuereb said.
Fifteen Aces has drawn perfectly at gate three but the horse they all have to beat is the Victorian visitor drawn one inside him.
The Margaret Lee (Mum) trained and Jason Lee driven Jilliby Nitro, will be attempting to win his fourth race in five starts. He opened up a hot $1.30 favourite.
Fifteen Aces is the $41 sixth favourite (of 12) behind out-of-Staters, Be Happy Mach ($7) Star Hunter ($12), Smooth Baht ($12), Spy Major ($26), and Ilikemebettor ($34).
“This is just the second time I’ve been to Queensland. The last time I was 10. I’m just pleased we made the final. This is the biggest race of my brief career to date,” said Xuereb, who has reined about 114 winners and trained 30 more.
See replays of all the major players and see how form analyst Darren Clayton assesses the 2019 APG 2YO Finals to be helad at Albion Park on Saturday!
He knows he will have his job cut out beating Jilliby Nitro, but isn’t going into the race to run a place.
“He won his debut well at Newcastle (March 1) in 1:56.9 and then he followed that up with a good win at Maitland (April 20). The mile rate was only 2:03.8 but he was a $1.14 favourite that day and did it quite easy," Xuereb said.
"We then squeaked into the final with a third at Menangle on April 30," he added.
Xuereb said the young pacer had now recovered from a back injury which had plagued his early career.
“I think he got cramped up one night in his box and injured it there. He’s okay now, but he’s taken a wee bit of time to recover.
“It won’t affect him on Saturday night. The muscle pain has gone. He’s in peak condition, and from the nice draw has the sprint to get some of it.”
Xuereb travelled the 935km (10-plus hours) from Londonderry in New South Wales to compete in Brisbane.
"Hopefully this might be the start of more trips to come. The weather is good here, which the horses enjoy.
"He's just a little fella but he tries his heart out, and has a real nice turn of foot. He will have just one race here and then we will prepare him for the Breeders Challenge, which will be back home in a few weeks," Xuereb said.
Footnote: Xuereb, who is of Maltese extraction, will drive the $8 third favourite, Sams Cam, from gate four in race five at Albion Park tonight.
Fifteen Aces winning on debut as an $8 shot at Newcastle on March 1.