Three-year-olds are a rare sight in the l’Ormarins Queen’s Plate, but that could be set to change in seasons to come after the only members of that foal crop in a field of eleven dominated the finish to Saturday’s prestigious WFA contest over 1600m on the Kenilworth summer course. The order of finish was not what most pundits were expecting, though, with Gimmethegreenlight grabbing the advantage in the closing stages to reverse two recent defeats by Variety Club, writes MATTHEW LIPS.
Variety Club had appeared to run well above his previous form when easily taking the Gr1 Cape Premier Sale Guineas over the same course-and-distance three weeks earlier and went off as a joint 5/2 favourite for the Queen’s Plate, sharing top billing in the market with Ebony Flyer, who was looking to improve a couple of spots on her third place finish in the corresponding race twelve months previously. Variety Club’s stable companion and 2011 Queen’s Plate runner-up Tales Of Bravery were the joint 13/2 third favourites, marginally ahead of Link Man (7/1), but Gimmethegreenlight was allowed to start at 13/1 after being beaten 5.75 lengths into fourth behind Variety Club in the Guineas.
Variety Club found himself in front after the break, but before exiting the back straight it was Gibraltar Blue who adopted her customary role at the head of affairs. She set a respectable enough pace as Variety Club settled into second, with Link Man, Ebony Flyer, Bravura and Gimmethegreenlight next in line as Kiss Again brought up the rear. Variety Club looked to be travelling very well within himself for most of the way and didn’t waste much time attacking Gibraltar Blue for the lead once into the straight. Joey Ramsden’s sophomore kicked a couple of lengths clear and looked to be doing everything absolutely right halfway down the stretch, but his stride began to noticeably shorten inside the last 200m.
For all that Variety Club was suddenly under plenty of pressure, the Guineas hero fought on valiantly in his bid to retain his unbeaten record for the current season, but he simply could not repel the late challenge of Gimmethegreenlight. Making steady and inexorable progress wider out, Gimmethegreenlight was produced with a typically perfectly judged effort by Piere Strydom to sweep past Variety Club in the final 50m and go on to win by almost half-a-length.
This was Strydom at his vintage best in his first meeting back since suffering a broken jaw in a parade rings accident several weeks earlier, and the Queen’s Plate came about a fortnight before Piere was originally due to return to the saddle, but the jockey shrugged it off with a smile in his post race interview and noted that a broken “arm or leg would have been different, but a jaw is nothing.”
Tales Of Bravery is as consistent as they come and ran on stoutly to finish one length further behind Variety Club in third place, with Bravura staying on to be almost another half-a-length away in fourth. Ebony Flyer looked to have every chance, but the enormous filly didn’t really quicken when needed and could only finish sixth, 5.90 lengths behind the winner. Link Man faded to finish a disappointing last.
Gimmethegreenlight had got to within a long neck of Variety Club when finishing second in the Gr2 Selangor Cup in November and always looked better than his Guineas effort suggested. “He has been so unlucky in all those Gr1’s”, said winning trainer Justin Snaith, and indeed Lady Luck has not smiled on Gimmethegreenlight from the KZN winter season, where he reached the frame despite plenty of valid excuses in a pair of races at the highest level. “I just tweaked a few things”, added Justin, noting that that was all it took to find an extra two or three lengths.
The trainer would not really be drawn into announcing whether he would now supplement Gimmethegreenlight to the J & B Met on January 28th, but victory in the Queen’s Plate now carries an automatic invitation to contest a Breeders’ Cup event in November, which this year will be held at Santa Anita Park in California. Snaith was a great deal more excited about heading to the USA with his colt, although he pointed out that any future plans would need to be discussed with Gimmethegreenlight’s owner, Hassen Adams. Piere Strydom left nobody with any doubts about his feelings on the subject and remarked that, “if they go to America, I want to go with.”
The Breeders’ Cup is a long way away, and in any case there is still the not insignificant matter of the export protocols to consider. The way in which Gimmethegreenlight ran on to win the Queen’s Plate encourages some faith that the Australian-bred colt will stay further, but the 2000m of the J & B Met (or Gr1 Investec Cape Derby, for that matter) would be a leap into the unknown and he would be far from certain to stay that far. So would Variety Club, who has a sprinter’s pedigree and who looked to be pretty much at the end of his tether at the finish of this particular contest. The 118 merit rating which Variety Club earned after winning the Guineas looks too steep unless you take the view that he ran some way below his best in the Queen’s Plate, but Tales Of Bravery makes for a splendid line horse and on that basis Gimmethegreenlight ran to a mark of around 115, having come here rated 108.
Gimmethegreenlight is a colt by More Than Ready, a dual hemisphere stallion who was a Gr1 winner over 1400m in his native United States and who has twice been Australian champion sire of two-year-olds. The Queen’s Plate winner is out of the Canny Lad mare Yes She Can Cancan, who won two races over 900/1600m. None of Gimmethegreenlight’s first four dams won beyond 1600m, so any attempt at 2000m would require a very real leap of faith, but he is certainly a miler of real talent and this first Gr1 success was long overdue. He has now won five of his ten starts, for stakes of R1 043 738.
l’Ormarins Queen’s Plate (SAf-G1) (1/7)
Kenilworth, South Africa, January 7, R1 million, 1600m, turf, good, (CR 1.36.20).
GIMMETHEGREENLIGHT (AUS), 55.0, br c 3, More Than Ready – Yes She Can Cancan (AUS) by Canny Lad (AUS). Owner H Adams; breeder D P Bentata (AUS); trainer J Snaith; jockey P Strydom (R625.000)
Variety Club (SAF), 55.0, ch c 3, Var – La Massine (SAF) by Secret Prospector
Tales Of Bravery (SAF), 60.0, b c 5, Kahal (GB) – Emperor’s Warning (SAF) by Caesour
argins: long neck, 1, long neck
Also ran: Bravura (SAF) 60.0, Chesalon (SAF) 60.0, Kiss Again (SAF) 60.0, Ebony Flyer (SAF) 57.5, Gibraltar Blue (IRE) 57.5, Lion In Winter (SAF) 60.0, Fabiani (SAF) 60.0, Link Man (SAF) 60.0