imbongi_gauteng_guineasImbongi winning the Gauteng Guineas with Anthony Delpech aboard
(JC Photographics)

South Africa’s leading racing and breeding newspaper, Sporting Post, reports that a mouth watering prospect awaits all true racing aficionados this Saturday at Clairwood, as only three weeks after their heart stopping duel in the Vodacom Durban July, Pocket Power and Dancer’s Daughter have another date with destiny.

Also up for grabs this time is the ‘horse of the year’ moniker, which is virtually certain to go to whichever of them crosses the line first. Another dead heat would however complicate matters, writes Ken Nicol (only partly in jest).

Pocket Power silenced the many sceptics who said he could only win at Kenilworth with a sterling effort under top weight on July Day. The champion produced his usual finishing burst and hit the front at the distance as if primed to win going away, only to find the upstart grey filly drizzling on his parade by getting up to share the spoils.

He now meets her on 3.5kg better terms in this Conditions event, and should have the upper hand this time, particularly as with Wonder Lawn in the field there is some chance of a genuine gallop. This would be in stark contrast to the Gold Challenge won by the filly at this course in June, where he was given too much to do in a race somewhat farcically turned into an out and out sprint.

Dancer’s Daughter
is a champion in her own right of course, and currently stands an elegant head and shoulders above any other locally active female. Already the winner of 4 Gr1 races this season, she doubtless has further improvement to come, particularly as she settled under Kevin Shea in the Durban July, which always seemed a potential achilles heel in the real big league.

She won the aforementioned Gold Challenge on her only previous visit to this course, but now meets runner up Imbongi on 4kg worse terms for that three quarter length victory. She will need to improve even further on the brilliance shown so far to win this. Which is distinctly possible of course.

Which brings us to Imbongi who is undoubtedly most likely to crash this particular party for two. As the winner of both the Gauteng and KZN Guineas he has strong claims to be regarded as South Africa’s best 3yo miler, and has already been earmarked by Mike de Kock as one with a Dubai campaign in his immediate future.

He is weighted to beat both Pocket Power and Dancer’s Daughter if the Gold Challenge form is taken at face value, and has been rested since while the two main protagonists gave their all in a gut busting dead heat. Indeed he also gave the reigning ‘horse of the year’ a solid beating when winning the Drill Hall Stakes, although admittedly on that occasion the champion was coming back from a rest over an inadequate 1400m.

A worry is the fact that he faded late in the SA Classic at Turffontein after moving up threateningly. That was the only previous occasion he went beyond a mile, so there has to be a slight question mark over his ability to get this trip. That may well have just been a bad day at the office though, as he quickened impressively late to win a true run KZN Guineas in the style of a horse who would welcome an extra furlong or two. He looks a major threat to the obvious twosome on a day when Mike de Kock will be hoping to snatch the champion Trainer title ‘in the shadow of the post’ as it were.

A couple of useful 3yo’s at the bottom of the weights flesh out the Mike de Kock challenge. Galant Gagnant was supplemented for the Durban July following a great second in the Daily News 2000. He made absolutely no impression on the big day, and still has to conclusively prove he can live in this type of company. Jumping from an inside draw is a plus, but he would be something of a shock winner here, even with only 52kg.

Gilded Minaret is the only female bar Dancer’s Daughter in the line up. She was a Gr1 winner as a juvenile, and has a couple of seconds at the top level to her credit, with the most recent being to Outcome in the Garden Province on the Durban July undercard. She looks to have a couple of lengths to find on the best of these, and being lumbered with the worst of the draw makes her task even more forlorn.

Longstanding leader in the Trainers race is Charles Laird, who will be hoping history doesn’t repeat itself, as he was pipped on the final weekend last year (by Geoff Woodruff on that occasion). He has a trio of entries, and Our Giant is the obvious pick with Anton Marcus up. Game and consistent, he isn’t well treated at all by the weight conditions here, and is 2kg worse off with Pocket Power after being made to look distinctly ordinary in the finish of the most recent J&B Met. He makes only passing appeal here.

Hunting Tower has rather been treading water since his glorious Durban July victory last year, and is yet to win in the interim. He has failed to quicken at any of his last four, and appears rather out of sorts at present. Johnny Geroudis takes the ride.

Like It Hot is a staying type, and indeed is also an acceptor for the Canon Gold Cup to be run at Greyville a week later. Not quite top class, he looks well out of his depth here.

Buy And Sell was rather disappointing in the Durban July, as he was perfectly placed entering the straight but found nothing when called upon and was one of the first horses beaten. He can do much better, and is weighted to beat all three of the primary contenders based on the potentially suspect Gold Challenge formline. More significantly he is 3kg better off with Pocket Power for a 2 length reverse in this year’s J&B Met, and has some upset potential. A very wide draw doesn’t aid his cause however.

Joey Ramsden’s Silver Mist is one of the great enigmas of our racing, and failed to make any real impression in the Durban July despite being well weighted on best form. He has failed to beat Pocket Power in twelve attempts now, and there seems no reason for that statistic to be challenged on this day, even with Piere Strydom aboard.

Stable mate Altius is a son of Danehill who was brought to our shores as a prospective stallion. He reeled off a smart hat trick at the Cape earlier this year, but then flopped miserably locally in the Gr3 July Consolation event won by London Guest. He looks outclassed on all known form.

Since many of the participants have the Durban July as their main seasonal target, its perhaps not surprising that this race has thrown up its fair share of surprise winners. Last year was a case in point, as African Appeal swooped late to get the better of favourite Kildonan.

Probably the most likely source of a major upset on this occasion is the Mark Dixon-trained Surfin’ USA. He has done best at this course, and stayed on well in the Gr3 Cup Trial a month ago. He gave winner Desert Links 1.5kg on that occasion, and with that one a creditable running on fifth in the Durban July, the form looks strong. Certainly worth including in quartets, and not without a chance carrying a mere 53kg.

The remaining four have it all to do at the weights. Best among them could be Buscador. Lightly raced, he quickened up in the manner of a good sort to win the listed Wolf Power Handicap at Turffontein in February. Two subsequent appearances have failed to build on that promise, but the Geoff Woodruff yard as a whole have been flat during that period and he could be significantly better than currently rated.

Wonder Lawn
has always struggled under the burden of his massive R3,3m price tag. A decent enough performer, he seems best when setting the pace, and so a disappointing latest should perhaps be ignored, as he was ridden from off them on that occasion. He can perhaps earn minor money if allowed to stride freely.

Tropical Empire
has consistently failed to cut it at this level, and while a top level handicapper is held by a few of theses on past efforts. He did stay on well to finish a plucky second when trying this trip for the first time in the Cup Trial. Now 4,5kg worse off with Surfin’ USA who was only a length further back, he has a few more serious headaches to deal with.
Appelate Court ran on to win the Gr3 Victory Moon Handicap at Turffontein last November. He has failed to place in five appearances since then, and is best left alone on current form.

Only Wonder Lawn is a recognisable front runner among these sixteen, while the likes of Our Giant, Buy And Sell, and Surfin’ USA all go handy. Wonder Lawn would maximise his own chances by assuming that role, so hopefully the gallop will at least be a reasonable one.

The Vodacom Durban July proved conclusively that Pocket Power is best over further than this now he is rising six. Countering that is the fact that he meets the brilliant filly Dancer’s Daughter on far more favourable terms, and he will be very hard to beat if not ‘over the top’ following his July exertions. Top class 3yo miler Imbongi could upstage both of them if getting the trip, while those looking for the ‘traditional’ upset in this race can try Surfin’ USA. It should be a humdinger.