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RACING’S NEW HOLY GRAIL
MELBOURNE - With more than 20 international horses - from England to France to Chile to Germany to the USA - in Melbourne for the 2011 spring carnival, the racing heart of the city certainly has a cosmopolitan feel.
You could argue it lacks just one thing - a horse from South Africa. And, of course, we’d love to have you here right now in the wake of the Rugby World Cup quarter final. Only kidding! It was a travesty of justice. How did you guys manage not to win that one?
Of course, the more-than severe quarantine restrictions imposed on horses leaving South Africa virtually rule out an Aussie assault, which is a shame given the links between the two countries. The immediate future doesn’t look bright according to Racing Victoria’s international recruiting agent Leigh Jordon, but he’s working on finding some end of tunnel light next year.
“We would love to see the South African horses competing on our shores but the situation has got worse recently and I’m not sure there’s a real solution in the foreseeable future. What I am working on is to get Dubai ticked off before March, so Mike de Kock and others could send a team straight to Australia from Dubai if they so chose. I think this could well be a better option than going to the UK,” Jordon said.
And this writer has little doubt that champion filly Igugu, prepared by De Kock (and Aussie bred, I hasten to add), might well have had this year’s Cox Plate at her mercy with a lack of depth this season among our middle-distance weight-for-age horses. At the time of writing, there’d been different winners of the five weight-for-age races run in Melbourne this spring.
Igugu, you could argue, has already been denied a victory in Australia. She was third behind Rocket Man in the Champion Australian-Bred International Award at the recent Horse Of The Year function in Melbourne.
Rocket Man polled 280 votes with Sacred Kingdom second on 100 and third was Igugu on 98. This result was absurdly skewed by most of these eligible to vote being simply more familiar with racing in Asia than in South Africa. I’m sure that most of them have not seen nor understood the quality of the Durban July but, trust me, I’m telling them all about it.
My compatriots also got it wrong with Black Caviar, as good and as unbeaten as she is, a runaway winner over So You Think in the Australian Horse Of The Year. The latter ought to have been given more credit… unbeaten in Australia for the season other than for the “shy at the stumps” in the Melbourne Cup.
Maybe it’s a spurious argument but I’m always inclined to look at these things as follows: could you imagine Igugu or So You Think giving Rocket Man and Black Caviar any sort of run at their pet distance of 1200m. My answer is yes - assuming a fair track and a decent pace. On the other hand, Rocket Man and Black Caviar would have no hope of beating the other two in their ideal distance range.
Of course, the award was not lost to South Africa with Rocket Man owned by Johannesburg businessman Fred Crabbia, trained by Singapore-based expat Patrick Shaw and ridden throughout his career by South African jockeys, his most recent partner being Felix Coetzee.
And maybe we could now argue there’s a new theory to finding racing’s Holy Grail. You simply get a horse bred in Australia and have it trained by a South African - after all, Igugu and Rocket Man each claimed their respective Horse Of The Year honours.
Another case in point is Australian-bred Hong Kong sprinter Bear Hero, who’s trained by David Ferraris - you got it, a South African. A winner three of four starts and champion griffin in Hong Kong, he’s the nearest thing to an South African Melbourne raider this year. He’s currently domiciled at the Werribee quarantine centre and is being prepared to take on Black Caviar in the Patinack Farm Classic at Flemington on 5 November.
Bear Hero went to Flemington on Friday morning to contest a jump-out (an unofficial trial) and he looked the part as he won the better-than-routine exercise test down the Flemington straight track.
The great mare, as you are no doubt aware, resumed at Caulfield on 8 October and stretched her unbeaten run to 14 wins. Just as importantly, she was single-handedly responsible for drawing an extra 10,000 fans through the gates.
I think she’s the best horse I’ve seen. I know memory plays tricks on you - and I’m not sure whether we can judge her against the great middle-distance and staying horses of the past - but she is freakish.
Her stride length is estimated at somewhere between one and two metres longer than the norm and she simply glides at high speed - having other very decent horses off the bit and struggling at the halfway mark of short races. Incredible! I’ve certainly never seen any other sprinting horse of her calibre.
I have no doubt she’d pick up and carry Rocket Man. I would rate her four to five lengths his superior. That, of course, is largely subjective, but, hey, as a mate of mine always reminds me, racing is all about opinions. And, he says, never overlook the possibility that you might be right.
Extract from Tab Online