Turffontein - The Golden Days are back
(Photos : Life/Racingweb/Summerhill Stud)
THE SOUTH AFRICAN DERBY
“THE CRUCIBLE OF OLD”
These are big days on most international racing calendars. At Epsom, in Kentucky, down in Sydney, it’s Derby time, and it’s no different at Turffontein. There was a time in the 1980’s and 90’s, when the obsession of local breeders was all about speed, that the South African Derby despite its great tradition, was beginning to resemble a folk festival staged around plodding young stayers with more courage than class. Not anymore. Certainly not this Saturday. It is the crucible of old.
Enter the new generation stallions, Fort Wood, Jet Master, Western Winter and if you’ll forgive us mentioning a young imposter, Kahal, and the Derby has regained its lustre, the last awesome rite of Autumn. Just this afternoon, Geoff Woodruff labelled this one of the better three year old crops in some time, and he’s got no axe to grind. It’s arguable that, in terms of depth, we could be looking at one of the best Derby fields in decades, and they’re probably better trained, given the depth of our professionals, than any field in history.
For obvious reasons, we’re penning this note for one reason, and one reason alone. Of more than 500 starters since the inauguration of the Triple Crown, only 5 horses (1%) stood a chance of challenging for the pot of gold. Only two, the spectacular Horse Chestnut, and our new hero, Pierre Jourdan stood a chance of winning. Is it possible Pierre Jourdan is in the same league? “He’s getting closer” proffers his trainer, “he’s getting closer”. Gary Alexander is not about to swap a memory for a possibility, but he is beginning to taste the possibility.
When “PJ” left the mounting yard on Classic Day, Alexander was quick to say “No excuses today”. He didn’t need any. Destiny came rushing up to embrace his horse. The banter is always in the mounting yard. Other side the stand, the bookies behave like the cold accountants they are. Forget comparisons with Horse Chestnut and all that sentimental guff. Just shorten the odds before some bunny gets on.
So dust off your spats, whip the crinolene down to the cleaners, and head for Turffontein in all its Autumnal finery. Saturday the golden days are back. The likes of Pierre Jourdan, Irish Flame, Iwannadance, Service Ace, Flying Tristam, Smanjemanje, Nyakatho, Fort Petersburg, Conquered Dreams, Happy Valley and Mirage Drive, have guaranteed that.
All can play, all can win. The difference this time is simply that if a “pleb” scores, he will have to beat a half dozen patricians to get there. But if “PJ” takes the “Crown”, the carousing could be riotous. The Alexanders are known for the quality of their cellar.
Best dust off the silver-tipped cane as well as the spats!