SOUTH AFRICAN RACING SEASON
1 August 2011 - 31 July 2012
Who would have thought a youngster like Gavin Lerena could come and snag a Championship from two world-class riders like Anton Marcus and Anthony Delpech? It’s a tribute to the work of the team at the South African Jockey Academy near Summerveld, that we’ve just received the news from Hong Kong of Dougie White’s continued dominance of their championship (this was the nineteenth year in the last twenty, that a South African has earned what must surely be one of the most sought-after jockeys titles in the world). And win or lose in the next couple of days, Lerena’s rise to prominence is another signal to anyone who will listen, that all is well with the quality of rider emerging from what has to be the most successful academy anywhere in the world.
The intensity of the rivalry at the top of the Jockey’s log has caught the attention of racing fans to such a degree, they’ve overlooked how tight it is at the top of the Breeder’s log. Nobody owns a monopoly on a championship, even though we’ve had seven in a row, and particularly not when you’re up against the combined muscle of some of the nation’s wealthiest individuals, Markus Jooste, Bernard Kantor and Chris van Niekerk, who with others are the investors at Klawervlei. They run a mighty good show down there, they have an advantage in their number of runners, they have the redoubtable Captain Al and the top-class National Emblem among their proven sires, alongside a battery of outstanding internationally-bred performers, and hanging on hasn’t been easy.
We guess this is what championships should be about, tooth-and-nail affairs that go to the line, and this one is little different. Every penny counts, and while we should never forget, what Mannequin has done in her career in chalking up her twelfth victory Tuesday, she not only brought unbridled joy to Paul Matchett, Pat Magee and JJ van Niekerk, but she also made it that little bit tougher for the opposition, who have a “heat-seeker” on our backsides for the title. We all have a number of entries in the big races on Saturday, and anything can happen. That said, we wouldn’t want to be changing positions with anyone else right now.
While the Gold Cup is obviously the focal point of the day, it is surrounded by three other Group Ones, as well as a stellar card of lesser Stakes races. Clearly, the quality race of the day is the Champions’ Cup, where a number of the prime adversaries from the Vodacom Durban July renew their rivalry. We have two contenders for the event, the old favourite, Pierre Jourdan, and Black Wing, who was an unfortunate second in a million rand event the week before the July. They seem to have discarded Black Wing as a contender, if the betting is anything to go by, but punters would do well to remember that just over a year ago, Black Wing ran some of the nations’ best three-year-olds very close in the Daily News 2000 (Gr1). While his subsequent form hasn’t quite lived up to that billing, Brett Crawford says he’s in good shape and at his best, none of us should be surprised to see him in the money.
As for PJ, the press seem to think he’s the third best in at the weights, despite his 60kgs, (Castlethorpe is the best handicapped, with a 2.5kg advantage off the same rating, while Whiteline Fever should only be receiving a kilo at weight-for-age, but instead has 3.5kgs to play with).
PJ’s trainer, Gary Alexander says: “He’s come out of the race well, and at the weights he has a shout. He’s fit and we’ve freshened him up. The main thing is he’s looking good and moving well. If he’s moving well, he’s always dangerous.”
On the July: “He hit his fetlock when he jumped, so it took a stride or two for him to get going and by that stage Robbie (Fradd) had no alternative but to go on the fence behind them.”
In this light, beware of PJ. He was named for one of South Africa’s favourite bubblies, and he might just be ready to fizz.