It's a bit like the rugby team, really. We're talking of course, about the 31 horses at the top of the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup log, and the jostling among owners, trainers and jockeys for a place in the final eighteen. In the end, someone or something has to give way to accommodate the rising star (think Damian D'Allende and Jesse Kriel at the World Cup).
On the weekend, we witnessed eye-catching performances from three colts who were sitting on the margins of qualification before that, and who, on the strength of what we saw, must surely have surged right into the reckoning. On Friday evening, Dean Kannemeyer's Tanjiro came rattling home at Greyville to give Marsh Shirtliff and Bryn Ressell a bite at the cherry off his previous rating of 80: a couple of races later, Charles Laird's Dance On Air made it two-from-four when he levelled a field of older campaigners to add another string to the Markus Jooste bow. The "green, gold stars and black sleeves" clan already has three Feature race winners in the form of South Africa's top rated juvenile of last season, Rabada, the Somerset Stakes ace, Tar Heel and last weekend's Sophomore Sprint victress, Perfumed Lady, in its armoury.
While these two graduates of our draft last year, Tanjiro and Dance On Air, hold obvious credentials, the one that took our breath away, if only because his performance was so reminiscent of his illustrious half-brother, Pierre Jourdan, was Champagne Haze. For a while, it's been rumoured in inter-galactic betting circles that Andrew Fortune ranks him as something of a meteor, but it wasn't until he bumped some of the best of the Gauteng sophomores, that his real merit was exposed. Yes, Champagne Haze was receiving 5kgs from the top weight, the R2.4million purchase Captain Nemo, as well as a couple from Ormond Ferraris' Romany Prince, but the fact is it wasn't only a matter of the 2.5 length margin at the finish that was the difference, it was the rocket fuel in his closing argument that had his foes gasping for air.
At whose expense these colts make their moves on the log remains to be seen when the new list is published at noon, but one thing you can count on, when the trio makes its way to the start on the 31st October for the R2.5milion on offer, there'll be more than a few in the field with fear in their hearts. That assumes they get a run of course, so we make this statement with that proviso. While they're a long way off Rabada's lofty 111 rating, and still have plenty of ground to make up on Tar Heel, reality reminds us that at this time of the year, three year olds all have different tempos to their improvement, and this lot look to be in "rapid" mode.
We have it on Michael Azzie's authority that they're taking Rabada's programme one race at a time, rather like the Springboks, his main mission right now being the Ready To Run Cup; thereafter they'll regroup as far as the "Guineas" is concerned.
The inverted commas are used advisedly; the Joostes are spoilt for choice; with the Dennis Drier-trained, Cape Town-based Seventh Plain their obvious candidate for the Cape Premier Guineas, it may well be that Rabada's course traverses the Dingaans in December en route to the Gauteng Guineas. There's little point from the owners' perspective in chasing the same "leather" when you can scoop the whole pool by keeping them apart so long. No doubt, the time will come, most probably during the winter season in KZN, when the inevitable clash eventuates, something for all of us to savour, but knowing the strategic savvy of Mr. Jooste's racing manager, Derek Brugman, my money would be on each of them going their separate ways till then.