HEALING Hands bolstered his hopes for a strong Country Championship Final performance after an encouraging third place run at a recent Kensington meeting.
The Gayna Williams-trained CDRA Country Championships Qualifier winner put in the run of the race to finish behind Grand Piano ($2.40 favourite) and Pinvincible ($4.60) in the Heineken 3 Handicap (1,400 metres).
Healing Hands ($9) flew home over the final 400 metres to claw his way forward from seventh up into the placings.
Williams' in-form I Am Invincible gelding entered the race with three straight wins to his name this preparation and had that winning streak broken in circumstances which were far from disappointing.
The battle for the lead was furious, with half the field involved in the early jostle for control.
Healing Hands stayed well clear of the scrap as her regular jockey Greg Ryan sat at the back of the field.
Thy Kingdom Come pushed ahead to take up the running and stretched the field out with a high tempo, leading out The Bald Eagle, Agassi and Pinvincible.
Grand Piano raced to the inside of Healing Hands with 400m to go, before Thy Kingdom Come carried a five length lead into the turn for home.
Thy Kingdom Come wasn't going to be able to carry such a frenetic pace for the entire 1,400 metre trip and his rivals soon swallowed the leader up.
Grand Piano found the kick he needed to race up alongside Pinvincible and charge to a two and a half length victory but Healing Hands put in an even more eye-catching dash home.
Healing Hands was unlucky not to take the runner-up spot away from Pinvincible as he bolted home with a big turn of foot inside the closing 200 metres, finishing half a head shy.
It wasn't the ideal running position early on but Williams was thrilled by the way Healing Hands found the line.
"We were happy with the run. He got a long way back in the run and I'd written him off 200m from home and thought he might run sixth or seventh and would have been happy as long as he pulled up alright," she said.
"It was a nice surprise when he hit the line hard to run third. We were thrilled.
"He drew wide and Greg said he got behind one he thought might have taken him into the race a bit better than what he did. He got pushed wide and had to do his best from there. He doesn't have to get back that far."
As of Thursday morning Healing Hands was sitting in a share of equal-fifth favouritism for the $500,000 at a price of $11. Acceptance will be declared Wednesday.