(Photo : JC Photographics / Summerhill Stud)
THE SA DERBY (GRADE 1)
THE SASCOC SA TRIPLE CROWN CHALLENGE
JACK MILNER : In 2004 the whole of America watched the Belmont Stakes with baited breath as Smarty Jones attempted to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
As the field came for home, jockey Stewart Elliot let him go and the son of Elusive Quality hit the front. The roar from the crowd was deafening as their hero burst into the lead, on the brink of history. But the screams turned into an audible groan as 36-1 shot Birdstone came alongside and then drew off to win.
South African’s will be cheering for their own hero on the aptly named Champions Day on Saturday as Pierre Jourdan attempts to win the Grade 1 SA Derby over 2450m at Turffontein and become only the second horse in South African history to claim the SASCOC SA Triple Crown. It is impossible to fault his performances up to now.
Gary Alexander has done an exemplary job with the son of Parade Leader and the manner in which he won the Gauteng Guineas and the SA Classic leads one to believe it will take a top-class performance to lower his colours. “He doesn’t belong to us anymore,’’ said Alexander after his SA Classic victory. “He’s now the people’s horse.’’
Hopefully Pierre Jourdan will have the people’s support in the SA Derby and that many of them will be at Turffontein to cheer him on.
However, a Triple Crown, as Smarty Jones and so many others before him have demonstrated, is not easy to win. To prepare a horse for one race is hard enough. To have him at a peak for three successive races over different distances in a space of two months needs a Herculean effort and a lot of luck. One needs things to go smoothly in every respect.
Fortunately Pierre Jourdan seems an easy horse to train and just seems one of those freak animals who does whatever is necessary to win.
The one reservation is the distance. Will Pierre Jourdan see out the 2450m? A lot of fuss has been made about the pace in the race, but trainer Mike de Kock says that is irrelevant. “He either stays or he doesn’t. A slow pace won’t make him stay. Pierre Jourdan is the class act but this could be a tough race for him to win. There were one or two running at him last time and it’s not going to be a walk in the park.’’
Although Pierre Jourdan beat him easily in the SA Classic, Irish Flame stands out as the main threat. The Dynasty colt was not with Mike de Kock for long when he contested the SA Classic and he is sure to improve, especially over this distance. “He’s come on as he’s settled in Joburg,’’ said De Kock yesterday. “The longer he’s up here the better he’s got and for the first time this week, I’m fairly happy with him. I was very happy with his mile run the other day (where he finished a four-length sixth to Regal Ransom). He’s by Dynasty out of a Fort Wood so we have no problem with the distance.’’
Iwannadance was 4.50 lengths off Pierre Jourdan in the Guineas and a fast-finishing, 2.50-length fourth in the SA Classic. He has been getting closer the further they go and over the longer distance, could be a threat.
Then there’s Charles Laird’sConquered Dream, who seems to be improving with every outing. He was unplaced in his debut but since then has scored three facile victories, including the Listed Derby Trial in which he beat De Kock’s Ilsanpietro by 2.50 lengths.
“Ilsanpietro shows me quite a bit at home but he’s desperate to be gelded,’’ said Mike de Kock. “He is better than his merit rating.’’ If that is the case then Conquered Dream must come into the reckoning.”
Both Mike Azzie’sService Ace and Ernie Anderson’sNyakatho were unsuited by the slow pace of the Classic but both trainers believe their runners will do well. Mike Azzie, in fact, rebuffed De Kock’s earlier comment that he felt Service Ace would not stay. “I rate him very highly. One of my fellow trainers suggested in the press this week that he won’t stay. I have news for you, my friend, he will stay every yard of it. He is by Fort Wood. All I can say is ‘Beware the (Azz-)Man’.’’
Ernie Anderson says he is hoping for some rain, which is impossible according to weather forecasts. “He (Nyakatho) is drawn wide and hopefully won’t be too far out of his ground into the home run. I believe the pace was all wrong in his last start - we are hoping for a stronger early pace this time. He is likely to enjoy the extra and I am confident he will mature and come into his own as a four and five-year-old,’’ he said.
And then there is De Kock’s third runner, Happy Valley, who did not disgrace himself when fourth in open company last time, carrying top weight over 2400m at the Vaal. “He ran a good race. He was not well ridden but I’m not sure he has the class to win a Grade 1,’’ said De Kock.
Whatever their thoughts, surely nobody will be too upset if the day belongs to Pierre Jourdan. After all, everybody loves a winner.
Extract from Racing Express
“As at 24 April 2010, 7am”
Figures courtesy of Betting World