Mick Goss
Talking of goosebumps, Rabada it seems, was born to inflict them on all his beholders. From the moment he found his wobbly legs in his first half hour after birth, he stood out as one for the “big time”.
— Mick Goss / Summerhill CEO

While the eyes of the bulk of the racing world are focussed on the Breeders' Cup Championships in the United States this weekend and the Melbourne Cup next Tuesday, for us, the biggest fish we have to fry are the ones that line-up for Saturday's ninth renewal of the R2.5million Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup. For those with the statistical inclinations of an actuary, at almost R100 000 a stride, the "Cup" remains the richest race per running metre in continental Africa.

Without detracting from the glamour of either of the two marquee occasions abroad, there is a growing "sameness" to the Melbourne Cup these days, with an overwhelming sea of European imports swamping the "Aussieness" out of it; somehow the old romance of the poor man's Pharlap, plucked from some obscure farm in New Zealand by a Bart Cummings to claim the spoils for the umpteenth time, has disappeared. The days are over when the Kiwis bred the world's best stayers from the cheap discards of European breeding programmes ever more demanding speed, speed and more speed. The culls of the better English and French distance races graced the New Zealand bloodstock landscape for close on a century, establishing that country as one of the world's principal bastions of quality stamina. New Zealand's pre-eminence as the bulk supplier of the best winners of Australia's most famous horserace, has been supplanted by the commercial imperatives of a market that has assumed all the characteristics of a new world which has compacted the great marathons of racing into veritable "scurries", compared to the prescribed distances they were originally designed for. The Melbourne Cup is now a matter of the man with the money getting his hands on the best modern-age European stayer his cash can buy, in an attempt at beating the next rich man with the same big budget or more.

As for the Breeders' Cup (which from a novelty perspective, finds its way appropriately to Keeneland in Lexington for the first time,) it has been robbed of a bit of its glitter in recent times with the resurgence in prestige of the season finales in Europe and the UK, and the repatriation in the past three decades of the best American blood to the leading studs of Ireland, England and France. That doesn't signal an end to our own interest in those big days at all, it simply makes more room for us to concentrate on what's happening in our own back yard.

The weekend's Turffontein card hosts what are effectively four Classic trials, the two big sales races and the Graham Beck and Starling Stakes (both Group 3), all contested over the 1400m of the outer track. Our prime focus will be the Ready To Run Cup of course, where 13 of the finalists going to post were graduates of our entry at the same sale in October a year ago: there's not a man in sight here whose eyes won't be riveted on channel 239 come 3:15 pm Saturday, looking for a rush of former green and gold colour-bearers swarming down that final punishing "100".

Reigning champion trainer, Sean Tarry, was on the line to us yesterday, and he wasn't going to escape being quizzed on the three fillies he sends out, Heaps Of Fun, Witchcraft and Intergalactic. While he rates them all as future Feature race aspirants, choosing one would be tantamount to asking who his favourite child is: he quickly retreated to the trainer's defensive maxim that three year olds improve at such different rates at this time of year, it's impossible to make an election. What he did offer though, was his view that they would be running for "second money", as he still believes Rabada has a couple of lengths on them all, despite his shocking slot two off the outside rail.

Which led me to a sunrise conversation with Rabada's master conditioner, Michael Azzie; the "Azzman" has a long and meritorious association with graduates of this farm, among them another mercurial Juvenile champion in Imperial Despatch, whose unbeaten two year old campaign was crowned by an historic triumph the following season in the Daily News Two Thousand (Gr.1) against the most formidable assembly of "imports" in living memory.

Michael has been uncharacteristically quiet about his charge's prospects, but couldn't help volunteering that the horse gives him goosebumps. In a matter of a "jiffy", he'd popped off a snap of the young champ taken an instant before in his stall. From the "Richard Stone Reeves" pose, it's clear that if all else fails, the Azzman could turn to horse photography!

Michael knows as well as the best of them, the burden a young horse carries from slot 14 over the Turffontein 1400m: he knows too what it means, even for the best of them, to come back against a top field of sophomores after 90 days off; but he also knows, and you can see it from the "pic", that Rabada is in the shape of his life. The propulsion that catapulted him away from his foes in his three performances to date, comes from that big "V8" and his great length from his hip to his hock. That's not to say he won't be short of a run: he's bound to be, but the horse has made all the improvement his trainer could asked for since last season, and deo volente, Saturday will act as a stepping stone to the race that first anointed Capetown Noir, the CTS Premier Guineas in mid-December.

Talking of "goosebumps", Rabada it seems, was born to inflict them on all his beholders. From the moment he found his wobbly legs in his first half hour after birth, he stood out as one for the "big time". We weren't around to see his dad, Brave Tin Soldier, at that age, but what we do know is that when one of the world's great judges first set eyes on him as a foal of a couple of weeks old, he wagered a world record $3million on his acquisition. While Rabada made a scant R300 000 by comparison as a Ready To Run two year old, he's as much a clone of his princely father as you'll ever see. And right now, he's done every justice to his namesake, the Proteas "quickie" who's rattling the stumps of the Indian batsmen on the subcontinent as we write.

In the family, we make an annual ritual of asking our two granddaughters to name their pick of the foal crop; whether it's a sign of things to come or not, Rabada was the instant "pudding" for little Zoe Goss right from the get-go. An Adonis physique and the dash of Denzil Washington elicited the swoons whenever we ventured past "Big Dam" paddock. Wonderful, the equine exuberance of little girls before they turn thirteen!