matthew lippsMatthew Lips (laffertyandlips) The Champions’ Season kicks off with a bang on Saturday at Greyville, with the staging of the first of the Classics, including the KZN Guineas (previously the SA Guineas Gr1). The race has attracted all but a few of the best three-year-old milers in the land, and remarkably 25% of the field grew up at Summerhill. Sadly, LOSTINTRANSLATION has been withdrawn on account of illness, but we’re nonetheless strongly represented in the three “Zulus”, IMBONGI, UMNGAZI and THANDOLWAMI, while ART OF WAR makes up the quartet for Sheikh Mohammed.

Matthew Lips, otherwise known as “The Oracle”, concludes in his weekly column in the Sporting Post, that IMBONGI and UMNGAZI should be part of the fray at the finish, discounting THANDOLWAMI for the fact he’s drawn the outside position. This is what he had to say …

IMBONGI has been a much improved horse in Gauteng recently and merits healthy respect despite being rated five pounds below Russian Sage. He has proven current fitness in his arsenal and loomed up menacingly before petering out to finish 6.5 lengths fifth of 16 behind Kings Gambit in the Gr 1 SA Classic over 1800m earlier this month. It was a decent effort from a very wide draw, and IMBONGI is sure to enjoy the drop back to a mile here. He made nonsense of his then-modest merit rating to hold off Kilcoy Castle by half-a-length in the Gr 2 Gauteng Guineas the last time he went 1600m and has a chance, but other than USA-bound Pointing North the Gauteng three-year-olds this season have perhaps not been in quite the same league as their Cape Town counterparts. The form of the Gauteng Guineas was made to look less than awesome when the first three all failed to place in the SA Classic, and IMBONGI has yet to show that he is on a par with the likes of Russian Sage.

UMNGAZI represents the best chance of a home town success after he bounced back to form with the first time use of blinkers in a Gr 3 event over 1400m at Scottsville this month. He raced handy throughout before scooting clear to beat Modern Monet by 2.5 lengths and can again get the better of that rival despite facing him on 2 kgs worse terms. UMNGAZI did beat IMBONGI by almost one length in the highly restricted Ready To Run Cup over 1400m on the Turffontein inner course last November, but IMBONGI was subsequently gelded and is a much better horse for it. He looks likely to reverse that form with UMNGAZI here, especially as the latter has yet to try 1600m, but Mark Dixon’s gelding can at least be given a place chance with Anton Marcus aboard.