SATURDAY'S SPORT AT THE J&B MET MEETING
It's become commonplace towards the end of each racing season, for the jewels in the three-year-old racing crown to be plundered by mega money from abroad. It's a "bitter-sweet" outcome for the local industry, bitter because it denudes our domestic scene of the championship duels that defined our sport in the decades of yore, and sweet for the financial desserts it puts on the table of those who sell them. Just a year ago, one of Australia's most respected journos, Simon Burgess, dubbed the South African thoroughbred the world's "worst kept secret", exemplified by the ranking of Variety Club and Vercingetorix among the planet's top runners. Yet it wasn't until Mike de Kock forced the world to sit up and take notice with the early exploits abroad of Victory Moon and Ipi Tombe, that South African owners came to realise that racehorses represented an international currency of their own, and that for a good one, there was real dough to be made.
That last year's three-year-olds escaped the clutches of overseas buyers, had as much to do as anything else, with the dexterity of local trainers in finding investors to partner those who were tempted by the money on offer, so that the gifts of Legislate, Louis The King and Futura were retained for our sporting pleasure at home for a change. You never know how strong a Classic generation really is till they've been measured against their elders, but what is clear, now that we know the strength in depth of this lot, is that international racing's loss in 2014 was South Africa's gain, no better exemplified than by Saturday's sport at Kenilworth's J&B Met meeting.
This was as good a day's racing as we've witnessed recently, and while the margin of his heroics on Saturday might suggest that Futura is head and shoulders above his own generation, it's worth remembering that Legislate was missing and that the recent Highveld Triple Crown winner Louis The King, hot off his own sparkling victory in the Sansui Summer Cup (Gr.1), just didn't turn up. There's no knowing what the outcome might've been had Legislate taken his place, yet there's no doubting Futura's class and the fact that he gets better with every run: if I was a betting man, I'd have him odds-on to make a real international competitor in the same division as the better ones to leave our shores this past decade, and on Saturday's and the Queens Plate's evidence, to do so at any distance from a mile to a mile and a half.
He is of course, the property of a couple of seriously wealthy men capable of withstanding the lure of riches from abroad, and unlikely to shy from the challenges of an international campaign. My guess is it's a matter of timing before Futura books his Club class ticket for the United Kingdom: I haven't been privy to their thoughts, but it's a fair bet that Jack Mitchell, Ian Longmore, John Freeman and trainer Brett Crawford (saddling his second Met ace, following Summerhill-bred Angus' big moment in the summer of 2002) would be tickled to see their colours paraded before the 60,000 toffs at Royal Ascot.
Much the same can be said for Drakenstein Stud's high talent, Inara, who notched up her second consecutive Group One in a thrilling renewal of the Majorca Stakes (Gr.1). Here again, this daughter of Trippi is in the ownership of people who will resist the pull of money alone, so that if Inara is to have an international career, she'll be wearing "blue, white square, blue sleeves and cap". What could be more satisfying for this high-flying comparative newcomer to the big-time racing and breeding scene, than taking on the world's biggest owners at the world's biggest race meetings? They've done it before in the world of luxury goods, and my money's on them doing it again with this home-bred fairytale.
While this year's sophomores have yet to be tested by the elder brigade, they too have the look of a class act, though no-one would've predicted the margin of victory in the Investec Cape Derby (Gr.1) which Ertijaal put over Act Of War, reportedly the market banker for 96% of exotic bettors. Many a punter has confidently touted Act Of War as at least as good, if not likely to eclipse the feats of Variety Club, (now ranked in the top three horses in the world), so complete was his dominance of his contemporaries thus far; the one thing nobody knew, was how far his class would travel, and Ertijaal answered that in emphatic style on Saturday, by a growing four lengths and change.
There's no sin in having stamina limitations however, and the fact that Act Of War didn't get the trip doesn't make him any less of a miler than he'd already proven. That said, let's not get away from a sterling show from Ertijaal, who's a certainty for the international circuit as the property of the deputy ruler of Dubai; this was not only a good victory, it was a standout act of professional handling on the part of young Mathew de Kock, who's championed Ertijaal's unbeaten record while his father has been otherwise occupied abroad. It was also a triumph for strategic savvy, as the forcing tactics employed by Gavin Lerena exposed the only chink in Act of War's armour: if he was to win the race, he'd have to run every yard of it. There was nothing in Act Of War's female pedigree to suggest he'd go beyond a mile; when it counted most, breeding mattered: he was run off his feet.
So much for the "high-flyers": at Summerhill, our attention is firmly riveted elsewhere, though we have to confess to a momentary distraction while the celebrations at Kenilworth were in swing. We have a smart draft for what has turned out to be the "best value" racehorse sale in the Southern Hemisphere: the Emperors Palace Summer Ready To Run, which looms upon us three weeks hence.