J&B MET (Grade 1)
Kenilworth, Turf, 2000m, 1 February 2014
Hill Fifty Four (Captain Al), second in last year’s Grade 1 J&B Met, went one better Saturday to gain redemption in one of South Africa’s most important races while earning his first victory at the highest level.
The winner of three straight races over the 2012/13 season - including the Grade 3 Algoa Cup and Grade 2 Peninsula Handicap, Hill Fifty Four tried Grade 1 company for the first time in this race last year when he just missed out to Martial Eagle (Silvano).
Third behind Beach Beauty (Dynasty) in the Grade 2 Drill Hall Stakes next out, he failed to hit the board in his last two outings of the season, finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Gold Challenge and a lackluster 19th in the Grade 1 Vodacom Durban July. He resumed with a flat-footed 11th in the Grade 2 Green Point Stakes November 23, but improved to be second to Master Of My Fate (Jet Master) in the Grade 2 Premier Trophy December 14. He finished fourth behind that same rival (who checked in fifth Saturday) when looking to defend his title in the Peninsula last out January 11.
It was apparent that no one wanted the lead through the early stages of the Met, but once placed there, jockey Anton Marcus gave Hill Fifty Four an enterprising ride. Cantering along through easy opening splits, Marcus guided his mount wide after swinging into the straight, losing a few positions as those in behind began to gather momentum. That proved no matter for Hill Fifty Four, however, who came roaring back in the closing stages to regain the lead and post a confident victory.
The result was a family affair, as Hill Fifty Four was bred by Klawervlei Stud - owned in partnership by Hill Fifty Four’s owners Ingris and Markus Jooste - and is by its resident leading sire Captain Al, who was trained by Vaughan Marshall.
“It's just a wonderful feeling, and to have trained this horse’s father and won the Guineas with him - it’s a very special moment,” Marshall said. “I discussed it with Anton and everything just worked out according to plan, so I was very happy during the running.”
Marcus added, “It’s been a while in between drinks - the last time I won this race was in 1993. I’ve had about six or seven seconds in between, so I’m just elated to win it for Vaughan, and more importantly just a credit for Markus Jooste.” Of his ride, Marcus said, “I knew there wasn’t much speed in the race. I knew there were two horses who probably wanted to sit in the first quadrant, and possibly only two horses that potentially could lead. Vaughan didn’t tie me down - either way if someone else had lead I would have been very happy to take a sit. I just felt that last time I sat a bit long on him when he ran fourth behind Master Of My Fate.”
Extract from Thoroughbred Daily News