SOUTH AFRICAN HORSERACING :
Three winners on Dubai World Cup night, gilded by a double from Mike de Kock, ushered in emotional scenes in the Emirate over the weekend.
The winning connections could scarcely believe their eyes. They were not alone. A country remote from racing’s international hierarchy rose up to swallow some big reputations — while simultaneously advancing Mike de Kock as the man of the moment.
The trainer intent on travelling the world has his sights on Britain. He is drawn to a challenge like moths to a flame.
Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai who hosts the World Cup night, has a similar trait. His Godolphin stable went winnerless for the second successive year but he will derive satisfaction from creating the platform on which Mike de Kock has performed.
Having seized that opportunity, Mike de Kock will pack his bags again next month when he lodges some 20 horses at Geoff Wragg’s Newmarket Stables in England.
He did the same with a much smaller team last year, which he says was really about reconnaissance. This time he has the requisite ammunition.
In SUN CLASSIQUE, emphatic winner of the Sheema Classic, he has a filly to die for. The four-year-old burst clear of a talented field three furlongs out, looked vulnerable when Hong Kong’s Viva Pataca threatened, then drew away again to triumph by two lengths.
The Prince of Wales’ Stakes at Royal Ascot is on the agenda, but Mike de Kock is leaning towards later targets, including the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood and the Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket.
SUN CLASSIQUE’S voyage exemplifies South Africa’s thirst to integrate with racing’s global village. She joined Mike de Kock in September expressly for that purpose, having won the Oaks there for another trainer.
“It’s fine winning big races at home,” Mike de Kock said, “but South Africans now want to test their horses against the best.”
Of his imminent venture to Newmarket, he said: “We learnt a lot last year — about the different tracks and different requirements of horses. We have had a good run in Dubai for the last two months, but I am hungry. It will be tough but we are optimistic.”
Joining SUN CLASSIQUE in Newmarket will be a slew of former Aidan O’Brien-trained horses. Among them are Brave Tin Soldier, Admiralofthefleet, the Derby runner-up Eagle Mountain and ARCHIPENKO, who finished strongly in third place in the Dubai Duty Free behind JAY PEG, the third South African winner, trained by Herman Brown, and Darjina.
ARCHIPENKO exemplifies his trainer’s philosophy. After a season at Ballydoyle, Mike de Kock has revived this colt to the extent that he might well have won.
“He didn’t have the courage to go for the gap when it came,” Mike de Kock said. “He doesn’t like being in with other horses, but we still haven’t got anywhere near to the bottom of him yet. That will take another few months, but he has unbelievable talent.”
HONOUR DEVIL, who was chased home in the UAE Derby by ROYAL VINTAGE, his stablemate, has the Breeders’ Cup Mile Dirt as his ultimate objective.
He was ridden by Johnny Murtagh, who made a winning start to his association with Ballydoyle at the Curragh on Sunday.
Mike De Kock rounded off the night when his ASIATIC BOY finished runner-up to Curlin in the Dubai World Cup.
This time, however, his representative had no chance with the powerful American colt, who scorched clear early in the straight.
Curlin is a monster in the making: not yet among the equine greats, but one with every prospect of bridging the gap.
His forte is that he can dismiss inferior opponents without even engaging overdrive, the gear that does so much to dim the appetite of his opposition for future struggles.
Extract by Julian Muscat from The Times, London