You never want to be too cocky about your chances in racing, particularly when you're talking about Group Ones. Inevitably, the competition among candidates at this level is of a premium quality, and it's especially difficult to predict outcomes when you're dealing with two-year-olds. While there are four Group Ones on the Gold Cup card, including the nation's premier staying event, by some distance the most intriguing is the Premiers' Champion Juvenile Stakes, not only because it is a pre-cursor to next season's Classics, but equally on account of the depth of the juvenile colts. The race will settle a number of issues, including, from a Summerhill perspective, the destiny of the Freshman Sires title, where Visionaire is locked in a do-or-die struggle with Querari, among seven Group One-winning adversaries in one of the strongest first crop line-ups in decades.
At the risk of being accused of diversion, allow me to mention that this year's Summerhill two-year-olds, in terms of their performances so far, rank with the best former graduates of this farm, and by some measures, they may even be the best. There are two aspects to them that are particularly pleasing, the one being that they include a slew of youngsters sired by our new stallions, Visionaire and Brave Tin Soldier, and secondly, they are a vindication of Summerhill's long-held policy of sharing our rewards with a broad spectrum of our clients on the farm, who either bred them themselves, or who did so in partnership with Summerhill.
Furthermore, several of them came from mares whose credentials, at least in terms of what they cost, were relatively modest, though there were obviously other deeper reasons why we recommended their acquisitions in the first place. Over the years, our inexpensively purchased mares have included the dams of champion Pierre Jourdan (cost R65,000, including a half-sister at foot in partnership with Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai), Jay Peg's Guineas-winning nemesis, Dynamite Mike (R40,000, Sheikh Mohammed again, lucky fellow); South Africa's winning-most racehorse of all time, Hear The Drums (R20,000, for eventual partners Equisoft Ireland) and champion miler Imbongi (R50,000, with our old pal, Dr Barry Clements of Australia).
Among this year's standouts in the juvenile division are Brave Tin Soldier's unbeaten Rabada (dam cost R40,000 in partnership with the Hong Kong Breeders' Club), Team Valor of the USA's Group-winning filly Royal Pleasure and Group One contender, Jet Air (both Visionaire), the first-timers Top Form (dam now owned by UK-based David Barrie), Lala (Albert Rapp), Virtuality, Harvest Queen (His Majesty King Letsie III of Lesotho), Emperor's Lass (Judge Alan Magid), Bindaloo (Rodney Thorpe and Roger Zeeman) and Red Hot Poker (Germany's Rupert Plersch), Tar Heel (winner of the Somerset Sprint (L), Oldlands Stud), Dance On Air (John and Diana Mellows), Intergalactic (her Galileo dam purchased from Sheikh Mohammed as an act of reciprocal support), Faberge Style (Mark Yong's Tmen Syndicate), Lady Of Scandal (Dr Jim Hay, UK), King Of Chaos (Rupert Plersch), Chisanyama (Rupert Plersch and Australia's Sam Hayes), Pure Blonde (Mike Destombes) and Sobonana (formerly Team Valor, another act of charity!). Numbers of them have either already lined-up and/or earned their brackets in Black-type races, or have big missions ahead of them; reassuringly, the bulk of them were graduates of last year's Emperors Palace Ready To Run sale, and are eligible for a place in the R2.5million Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup on the 31st October. I guess the underlying theme here, is that you don't have to bankrupt yourself in the cause of acquiring a quality collection of broodmares, provided you mate them judiciously and raise them properly.
Turning now to the "Premiers"; and the Freshman Sires' title, Querari's claims lie in the hands of Michael Azzie's High Game who earned his maiden brackets at the last time of asking by seven lengths, while Visionaire's antidote lies in Jet Air, who cruised up against winners at Scottsville over the mile of the Premiers ten days ago, but goes into Saturday's big one from the precarious eleven slot. If the betting means anything, they all have to beat Brave Tin Soldier's Rabada, facile hero of the Gatecrasher last time at the course. He is obviously a worthy favourite, as the form of the Gatecrasher has been admirably endorsed by King's Knight, who trotted up last weekend in a Group 2 after trailing by five and a bit in his encounter with Rabada, while just yesterday, No Exit (three-and-a-half lengths adrift of Rabada) came home majestically at Greyville, for Alesh Naidoo and Charles Laird. The highly regarded Gauteng raider, Mogok Master, who ran Seventh Plain to a near thing in the Golden Horseshoe (Gr.1) on July Day, and Dominic Zaki's hot shot, Prospect Strike, whose champion jockey elect, Gavin Lerena, is in the form of his life. Michael Azzie is double-handed in the event with Abashiri, a debut winner on his last start, though you can never discount our new Champion Trainer, Sean Tarry, in any big contest, his Captain's Causeway, obviously talented, has however found the outside gate.
They might all have to beat the weather though, as the long range forecast suggests something of a deluge could descend on the Durban Turf Club on Saturday, and while that and last night's three inch torrent might be music to the ears of our drought-stricken sugar-farmers on the coast, it could turn results at the Greyville circuit upside-down.
What is so gratifying about the performances of our present crop of juveniles is the response we've had to our stallions in the way of bookings for the season ahead, and while this obviously bodes well as an advert for October's Ready to Run auction, where we have an outstanding entry of just over a hundred. Moreover, we're probably better placed now than at any time in the past two or three years to renew our challenge for a tenth Breeders' Championship; in any farm's fortunes, the three-year-olds are the pivots around which your assault is built.
Unlike rugby or football, where you can re-strategise by substituting players or acquiring new signings in a matter of weeks, and thus recharge your stocks, it takes years to turn the wheel in our game, and the one thing you can be sure of, is that while Klawervlei were rejoicing last August, we were already re-calibrating our sights! The current crop of yearlings, who celebrate their two-year-old birthdays next week, have filled us with the same sense of anticipation as we had for this year's juveniles, especially as they have among them the first lot of Golden Swords, whose stock enjoyed the applause of Mike de Kock, Magic Millions' Barry Bowditch, Grant Burns and "Chuck" Norris, Charles Laird, Michael Azzie, Jehan Malherbe, Ronnie Napier, Jean Marc Ulcoq, Alick Costa, Justin Vermaak, Alesh Naidoo and Paul Lafferty at this year's sales. While the market doesn't always get it right, this is as formidable a battery of judges as any first-season sire could wish for, and Golden Sword at least has a ticket in the sweep.
See you at the races.
*Editors Note: Since the posting of this article, we have been notified by Gold Circle that the eLan Property Group Gold Cup meeting has been postponed to Saturday, 1st August, on account of the forecast of adverse weather. It seems Gold Circle must have read our prediction that "they might all have to beat the weather."
|FRESHMAN SIRE||EARNINGS (ZAR)|
|Warm White Night||548,600|
|Just As Well||307,425|