Saturday sees the first of the “Big Four” races of the year, the Steinhoff Summer Cup at Turffontein. Of interest from a Summerhill perspective is the presence in the field of the second top weight (and second favourite), Emperor Napoleon, who amazingly, has yet to achieve the status of a Feature race winner, in spite of the fact that he has placed second three times and third twice in Group One company, and on several of those occasions being the narrowest of losers.
Just this last past weekend, he was crowned Champion KZN-bred Middle Distance Male, an appropriate accolade for one of last season’s top performers. He jumps from the second outside slot, but as racing sage, Charl Pretorius points out, the race has been won over the testing 2000m at Turffontein course from near the outside on several occasions in the past few renewals. So if the draw itself is not an inhibitor, then what is?
You’d never be leaving the stalls in a race of this magnitude with 58 kgs on your back and attempting to suggest that weight is not a “stopper” in itself, and considering that the weather gurus are touting heavy rains for the Gauteng region right up until Friday (and we haven’t got to see a forecast for Saturday yet,) therein lies another hidden handicapper. Then of course, there is the searching question of the opposition.
One of Emperor Napoleon’s great rivals of last season was the highly talented Biarritz, who for a change, has to concede him a couple of kgs, but the race favourite, who has a 4.5 kg pull with Emperor Napoleon, is the recent November Handicap winner, Our Giant, an expensive son of Giants Causeway imported from Australia for Markus Jooste and Charles Laird. He’s in cracking form at the moment, is fairly well “tossed” in at the weights, and while there are arguments about how “tight” the November Handicap finish was and that the form could’ve been thrown up in the air with a different result each time it landed, the truth is Our Giant was a convincing winner on the day, and it’s difficult to see anything in that field at the weights applicable on the day, turning the tables on him.
The death of Ian Smith, former Prime Minister of the erstwhile Rhodesia yesterday, reminds us that Zimbabweans have had an impressive record in this very race, with the likes of Merciless Sun, and this year they have a somewhat unknown quantity in Earl Of Surrey, and we use the word “unknown” advisedly. He has had two very impressive runs in South Africa without beating much, but on each occasion he has travelled back to Zimbabwe, and travelling down for this race can’t be an advantage. That said, he’s at 8/1 in the betting, where the favourite is only 7/2, and that means, according to the bookmakers at least, he’s in with more than a shout.
Our other choice in the field, following his big run recently, is Appellate Court, but this race is wide open, and could be pretty well a case of close your eyes on put your finger on the betting boards, and come up with a winner all the way down to Apple A Day at 50/1. Let’s not forget, another Summerhill Ready To Run graduate, Fork Lightening, has been placed in this race before, and he looks like he’s coming back very quickly to his best form.