Mike de Kock and Justin Snaith (Summerhill Stud)

On Tellytrack’s “Keeping Track” programme at the beginning of the week, “Mr. Racing” Graeme Hawkins, hosted a panel of experts for the purposes of discussing the forthcoming Champions’ Season in Kwa Zulu Natal. The panelists included the veteran jockey-turned-trainer, Garth Puller (who’s as shrewd a judge of form as anyone we know), Parade Magazine’s editor, Lance Benson, and visiting high-profile trainer, Justin Snaith, who’s just concluded a marvellous summer season in the Cape. While their topic concerned the final few months of the season, it’s increasingly clear that the emerging clash of the generations is what’s going to dominate the headlines until August.The discussions centered on the forthcoming Gr.1 races, but the events to which the discussion kept reverting irresistibly were the Gold Challenge (Gr.1) (at Clairwood Park on the 14th June), and of course, Greyville’s Vodacom July, (5th July). These two races were obviously topical because of their significance in the context of the whole winter programme, but they also carried a different kind of curiosity in the aftermath of Friday evening’s events in the Drill Hall Stakes (Gr.2). Indeed, in the midst of their review of the Drill Hall (which was pretty well “glossed over” because it didn’t end up with the result everyone was expecting,) there was an insert on last year’s Horse Of The Year, Pocket Power, obviously prepared in advance of the outcome of the Drill Hall.

The overriding issue, is that there appears to be a growing respect for the current crop of Three Year Olds, following recent victories over their elders in the Gomma Gomma Challenge (Gr.1) (by Eddington,), J.J.The Jet Plane in the Computaform Sprint (Gr.1,) and Imbongi’s demolition job on Friday, which included Pocket Power and three other former champions, in the Drill Hall.

Let’s begin by acknowledging Justin Snaith’s outstanding talents as a trainer, besides being a really nice fellow. We’ve always enjoyed having the odd horse in the Cape trainer’s yard, as there’s no lack of enthusiasm in the team, their client communication is quite exceptional, and they live in an optimistic world, which means you think you’ve always got a chance. Some people like to get the news as it comes, others like good news, and we think racing is a “good news” business. As long as there’s hope, there’s a vestige of enthusiasm.

Justin is invariably cock-a-hoop about the prospects of his horses when they’re well, and he was no less so about the chances of Dancer’s Daughter in the Gold Challenge, Russian Sage’s prospects in the Daily News, and both of these horses’ expectations in the July. To the degree, in Russian Sage’s case, of volunteering the contents of an sms sent to Mike de Kock right after Imbongi’s win, congratulating him on the one hand, but on the other suggesting the result might’ve been otherwise had Russian Sage, supposedly in his “new” guise, been engaged. Now that’s “war talk” if every we’ve heard it, particularly as the “Russian” appeared to be in reverse when Imbongi whistled past in the Guineas.

What strikes us (if not amazes us) is the almost dismissive respect people have shown for Imbongi’s form. When he ran away with the Gauteng Guineas in early April, he had behind him the Gomma Gomma winner, Eddington, the duel Classic hero, King’s Gambit, the Dingaans winner Lion’s Blood and the Computaform Sprint ace, J.J.The Jet Plane, all flat to the boards in their attempt to stay in touch, but comprehensively out-punched in the finish. The excuse proffered by the professionals was that the pace had been slow, and that there was a prospect the result might’ve been different in other circumstances.

So Imbongi came to Durban having to prove himself again in the KZN Guineas, this time against a horse (Russian Sage) who’d been running with considerable merit at distances from 1400 metres to that of his Cape Derby victory over 2000 metres. Despite significant interference late in the race, Imbongi comfortably overpowered the “Russian” in the closing stages. On that occasion, (and there might’ve been merit in this, though how much we don’t know), the excuse was that Russian Sage needed the run. It was no different on Friday evening in the Drill Hall, where all of Floatyourboat, Pocket Power and Bold Ellinore were on first outings after a break. While Pocket Power was apparently well over his J&B Met-winning weight, the reality is, he was doing his best at the end, with little sign of a shortage of condition. No doubt, the Drill Hall will have brought him on a ton, and with the expectation that he’ll be more effective over the 1600 m of the Gold Challenge, they’ll believe that the 3.5 length beating he took from Imbongi will be reversed. That may be so; we’ll see. For sure, there’ll be no shortage of fans rooting for all sides, come June 14th.

Of course, there’s quite a bit of emotion and sentiment riding on the “unwanted” Imbongi at Summerhill right now, and we’re hopeful of a bold showing when that time comes, on this occasion, hopefully, without excuses from anybody. The suggestion that the 1600m trip will suit Pocket Power better, ignores the fact that in Mike de Kock’s view, it might just do Imbongi better as well, so this is a contest we can all look forward to.

Dancer’s Daughter will be lining up in the same race and so will the rest of the nation’s best milers, but for now, on the basis of history, they all have Pocket Power to beat. Yet on the basis of the crude form before us, Imbongi is the man of the moment.

For our part, this is what the game’s about, and it’s a vindication for those that saw in Imbongi the class he’s showing now, when he first revealed himself a likely sort as a youngster on the gallops at home. Heavens knows how many great ones did the same for the Ellises in the old days. Mowgli, Panjandrum, Sentinel, Magic Mirror, Cape Heath, Alyssum, they all come to mind. And then for us, Imperial Despatch, Icy Air, Amphitheatre, Emperor Napoleon, Bold Ellinore, Disappear, Dynamite Mike…

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