Geoff Woodruff and Alec Laird
Geoff Woodruff and Alec Laird

Geoff Woodruff and Alec Laird / GW & AL Racing (p)


Turffontein, South Africa

29 March 2014

One thing about money is that however much you’ve got, it can’t buy you everything, especially in racing. Happiness is another commodity that eludes the pockets of even the rich sometimes, and it’s best illustrated when the unwanted urchin of the sales-ring comes sailing home at the expense of a blue-blooded trail of sales-toppers. Just a few seasons ago, Pierre Jourdan, who wasn’t that big, his parents weren’t that smart, and who’d been neglected at the sales because his legs weren’t that good, laid low a star-studded assembly of the nation’s top three-year-olds in the very race that tops the bill at Turffontein on Saturday.

Before we get to that event, let’s acknowledge one thing, and that is that when it comes to scale, money can certainly buy it, and in that context, the events in Dubai this weekend have dwarfed the fact that right here at home, we have a feast of a programme in Johannesburg which rivals any good day’s racing on the South African calendar, with as many as eight Group races (three Group Ones). Top of the menu is a race which holds special affection for Summerhill. Back in the days when glory was especially important to us (when did that ever change?), Last Watch galloped home for James Goodman and Barry Walters in what was then known as the Bloodline Million Classic (Gr.1) on the eve of the National Sale. It couldn’t have been a better advert for the draft of a young, emerging farm. In recent years, following several near-misses, it’s been a big day for us, with Pierre Jourdan’s victory one year, Igugu’s in the Fillies’ Classic (Gr.1) the next and last year, as a rank outsider, Love Struck showed us what he was made of, with a gutsy victory in the colt’s version.

While it’s obvious that a “Love Struck” can always turn-up and “pee on the parade” (as they say in the classics), on the face of it, it looks like a big day beckons for Geoff Woodruff and Robbie Fradd. If the form of the Gauteng Guineas (both sexes) is anything to go by, this duo look like a shoe-in for the respective Colts’ and Fillies’ Classics, the one carrying a hefty stake of R2million, the other R1million. But Geoff will be quick to tell you that the fans turned up in their droves last year to watch his colt Tellina and Ormond Farraris’ charge Cherry On The Top win their respective classics. In the end, Cherry On the Top won the Fillies’ Classic, but it was Love Struck that won the hearts. Woodruff saddles the favourite, and on his Guineas showing, Louis likes being the King.

That said, Alec Laird has a strong hand with Forest Indigo, Bouclette Top and Mr Cricket, whilst with our own record in the race, you wouldn’t want to be discounting the chances of Sean Tarry’sSilva Hawk and the De Kock-trained Umgiyo. His draw in the sticks and relative immaturity might well mean that this race comes a little early in Silva Hawk’s career, but it doesn’t diminish Sean Tarry’s expectations going forward: “In my view, he’s a top colt in the making, and while I expect to see the best of him next season, you can’t turn your nose up at two bars!” Umgiyo on the other hand, seems to be coming to hand at exactly the right time, his recent gelding bringing him back to the form we saw from him in Group One-company as a two-year old. Remember what I said: Don’t count us out!

Out of the blue yesterday evening, Heather Morkel received a call from Monique Mansour (whose hand you quite often see adorning the arm of Mathew de Kock), enquiring whether the owner of our big hope for the Fillies’ Classic, Winter Star, Mauritian Vicky Veeramootoo and trainer Johan Janse van Vuuren could join us for lunch today and stay over at Hartford tonight. That seemed a bit odd, given they had Winter Star in the race, but it turns out she spiked a temperature earlier in the week and has been scratched. While they might not have been having sleepless nights given her outside draw, the Woodruff team will know that Arcetri Pink and Not Sulking will have one less to beat come post time.

A word of caution though; a year ago at our Summer Ready To Run sale in the School Of Excellence, Jo Gardner resisted the interventions of her husband Bruce, when going to R100,000 for the A.P. Arrow filly Coby, a winner of her last two starts over the course and distance, and Gary Alexander won’t be without hope for her despite yet another hammer-blow of a draw. Could it be that we’ve made the gods angry of late, as there’s not a graduate of the farm with a hope of arriving on Classic Day that’s drawn closer than the number ten slot?

Which brings us to the third of the Group Ones, and the prospects for Mullins Bay’s progressive son, Gitiano, who put up his hand on his return to the races a fortnight back for the mighty performance over 1400m. Reading the press, you’d have to think the H.F. Oppenheimer Horse Chestnut Stakes (Gr.1), is a match between Capetown Noir and Yorker, one-two in the nation’s principal weight-for-age mile, the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate (Gr.1). While Gitiano still has to overcome a fourteen slot (out of fourteen), he not only has these two to battle with, he has the Durban July hero, Pomodoro, in the field, alongside the Group One performers, Whiteline Fever, Wylie Hall, Tellina and Espumanti to deal with before Alec Laird can pop any champagne corks for a colt we affectionately remember growing up on these old pastures.

While Mike de Kock is the man they all have to contend with in Dubai tomorrow (and you can never count him out at Turffontein either), it does look on balance like a match between Geoff Woodruff and Alec Laird for the title of victor ludorum.