03/01/2003 1:00AM

U.S. debut of No Excuse Needed


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - When Mark Hennig left trainer D. Wayne Lukas to go out on his own in 1992, his first big horse was Star of Cozzene, who went on to win three Grade 1 turf stakes.

Since then, most of Hennig's success has come with dirt horses. Now, thanks to an infusion of stock from Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum's Gainsborough Farm, Hennig may be back in the turf business.

Hennig said he received three horses from Gainsborough, including the multiple Group stakes winner No Excuse Needed who makes his North American debut in Monday's featured optional claiming/fourth-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles on the Gulfstream Park turf.

"It's been a while since we had a horse that fit the profile," Hennig said. "Star of Cozzene, that's a long time between top grass horses."

No Excuse Needed, a 5-year-old son of Machiavellian, has won 4 of 13 starts, including the Group 2 Celebration Mile at Goodwood and the Group 2 Queen Anne Stakes at Ascot. He also ran within six lengths of Rock of Gibraltar in last year's Group 1 Sussex Stakes, a race in which he finished second in 2001.

But Hennig is not sure that No Excuse Needed's future is on the turf. Since getting him last November, No Excuse Needed has worked remarkably well on dirt, including three bullet workouts - all timed in 1:02.80 - over Payson Park's dirt track.

"We are definitely thinking dirt with him in the long run," Hennig said.

Still, his turf success - and the presence of Jerry Bailey on his back - make No Excuse Needed a logical candidate in Monday's feature.

It is a most competitive field No Excuse Needed meets in his U.S. debut. Honor in War comes off a third-level allowance win over this course on

Feb. 1. Statement is 2 for 2 over this course and 3 for 3 at the distance, including a money allowance win on Jan. 29. In a game of musical riders, Eibar Coa, who rode Honor in War, gets on Statement, who had been ridden by Bailey.

Wertz could be dangerous as the main speed of the race. The Mark Shuman-trained horse just got beat by Mr. Pleasantfar at this same level on Feb. 13. Wertz, a 7-year-old is 5-4-2 in 17 starts over the Gulfstream turf course.

Boastful, trained by Bill Mott, has twice raced in this condition, finishing second to the stakes-winning Request for Parole on Jan. 8 and defeating Sardaukar on Jan. 24. Sardauakar was claimed for $100,000 by Mike Gill and Shuman and came back to run third in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap.