A lot has been said and done about sales races in this country in the past twelve months, but the one thing you can't take away from them is the air of frenzy they invoke. In Australia, where the horse is king and money is the emperor, they've come to terms with the essential worth of these glamorous events in both the social and racing calendars, and they've contented themselves with the fact that if you put up the money, the class follows. That means, like the rest of the world, that they acknowledge the value of the earnings generated on these occasions for championship purposes, and they've endorsed their merit by awarding them Black type status. Which makes the intervention of those that stripped the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup and its brother and sister events of their earnings value and Feature race worth the more puzzling, particularly in the light of the luminaries these races have thrown up since their inception.
The one fellow that won't be worrying too much about the wisdom of these decisions though, is the unbeaten Rabada, who goes to post for the R2.5million prize of the Ready To Run Cup on Saturday as both a Group One winner already and the highest-rated juvenile colt of the past season. His connections however, will have other concerns, the first of which is the least of them, and that is his layoff of three months. The other though, knowing the Turffontein 1400m course, is the 22 slot he's been allocated in a field of 24, and while eliminations will mean that of the 16 lining up, he'll come in a few, he can get no closer by our reckoning than 14; that means he'll need all the guile and the finesse of what's made Anton Marcus one of the world's finest exponents of his profession to get him home.
You might argue that we should be consoled by the prospect that at least 12, and possibly 13, of the line-up, were part of the Summerhill entry at last year's Ready To Run sale, but we're hardly better off in our other likely prospects in the gates they've drawn: Sobonana (24), Top Form (23), Mr. Wise Guy (21), Witchcraft (18), Dance On Air (15) and Intergalactic (13). Indeed, with the exception of Champagne Haze (9) and Visionaire's 5 ½ length-winning daughter, Heaps Of Fun (8) it seems that the gods, if any of them really are out there, coupled our green and gold colours with those of the Springboks when it came to dishing out the weekend's prizes.
Of course, none of these fellows are old enough to know what it's like to be drawn in the sticks, so they won't be carrying the psychological scars of those like us, who've burnt their sentimental fingers through plunges on the ones we've loved most over the years. At almost R100 000 a stride, the "Cup" remains the richest race per running metre in the land, so it's little surprise that of the nine jockeys declared so far, six of them are the former or current champions Anton Marcus, Anthony Delpech, Piere Strydom, Gavin Lerena, Andrew Fortune and Weichong Marwing. No doubt "Bling" Khumalo and every other man worth his salt will be supplemented to the card by the time the declarations close at high noon today.
While Rabada has at least a stone in hand over his rivals in terms of his end-of-season NHA rating, the unknowns that bedevil the waiting time between a juvenile campaign and the beginning of a sophomore year, remain: have they trained on, what's the handicap value of a 90 day break, and what is the cost of a draw in the car park? Given the form of his cricketer namesake, you'd think this should be the proverbial "walk in the park" despite these challenges, as well as the poser of how much improvement his adversaries have made in the meantime.
By 3:30 pm on Saturday we'll know the answer, and we'll know by then what the season has in store for the best of the Highveld and KZN three year olds: the card carries two races of R2million or more, as well as the Graham Beck (Gr.3) and the Starling Stakes (Gr.3) for colts and fillies of the same generation, in their warm-up for The Dingaans at the end of November. This could be a day for the ages