J is for Just An Excuse
Just An Excuse completed a remarkable New Zealand Cup run for driver Todd Mitchell.
Between 1999 and 2004 the man they call “The Wizard” had three NZ Cup wins in a row and four in six years. The final two were with Just An Excuse, both times beating glamour pacer Elsu.
In 2003 (the 100th running of the NZ Cup) Just An Excuse started a warm favourite and led from the front, outmuscling Elsu and Jack Cade in a thrilling finish. He got home by a long neck.
Then a year later the champion was a $7 third favourite on the back of a limited and injury-plagued preparation. Elsu was all the rage but Just an Excuse – a horse that his driver called a “freak” - outsprinted his rivals to go back to back.
In 2003 the winning time was 4:05.7, in 2004 4:01.2. Just An Excuse also finished third in Mainland Banner’s history-making New Zealand Cup triumph in 2005 in what commentator Reon Murtha described as a “mighty performance”.
Mitchell’s earlier Cup wins had come with Gracious Knight (2002) and Homin Hosed (1999). His wins place him fourth equal all-time, behind Ricky May (7 NZ Cups), Cecil Devine (6) and Mark Purdon (5).
Making Todd Mitchell’s successes even better was the fact that the horse they called “Lordie” was trained by his father, Robert Mitchell at Raglan .
By then first season Nevele R sire Live Or Die, Just An Excuse was the sixth foal out of My Excuse, a mare that owner-breeder Ollie Haines once described as a “bloody nutter”.
As a weanling the signs were not good as the horse had a club foot. Attempts by the breeders Ollie and Irene Haines to sell him were not successful so they raced him themselves. He repaid the faith, winning his debut at Cambridge as a three-year-old by nine lengths.
He went on to win over a million dollars by claiming five Group Ones and the New Zealand Cup – Free For All double in 2004. He was the first to do that since Christian Cullen in 1998.
In all he won 17 from 39 starts.
Just An Excuse’s last race was as a seven year old on December 23, 2005. His retirement came to a premature end two years later when he suffered a paddock injury. He broke his leg and was put down in June 2008.
At the time Robert Mitchell said : “He has been such a great horse for us and really didn’t deserve to go like this.”