The sun has long set on the thrills of Champions Season and the annual industry back-slapping show of awards and accolades have been consigned to mantlepieces and the history books. Life goes on and we enjoy a rather dull week on the local front with an R89 000 MR 90 Handicap on the Vaal Sand providing the highpoint on Thursday afternoon.
We are not being dismissive of the role that the bread-and-butter fare has to play in the bigger scheme of racing , but this is the time of the year when many trainers ease up on their charges and catch up on housekeeping , before the whole seasonal cycle starts afresh again.
The Vaal sand will in fact provide most of our quality entertainment in the next six weeks with the R200 000 Gr3 August Stakes being run on Saturday 25 August in a build-up to Africa’s richest race on this surface, the R600 000 Gr2 Emerald Cup which is scheduled for 22 September.
None of the nine runners engaged in Thursday’s MR 90 Handicap should be remotely concerned with such heady matters though and this event looks just one of many similarly competitive punting posers on a tough nine-race programme.
An interesting runner is former Kimberley campaigner Kensington Gore, who is carded to carry topweight and has his first run for trainer Geoff Woodruff.
This 4yo gelded son of Albert Hall was formerly in the care of the late Sean Miller and was being spoken about as the new wonder horse of the sand after two emphatic wins at his first attempt at Flamingo Park in April this year.
He then summararily went from hero to zero with Joe Punter when jumping at prohibitive odds of 7-20 in the Kimberley Classic in the first week of June, and ran last after refusing to jump with his field.
He has not run since and will thus probably need this outing but is partnered by Hennie Greyling , who has the distinction of having piloted him to a first and last place at his last two starts, and would probably have learnt plenty from both experiences.
There is no doubt that Kensington Gore has shown top ability on the sand and this is borne out by him having survived the Jooste rationalisation exercise to pursue his career in the tougher playing fields up North – and then at a top yard too.
We have yet to see the brilliance that had those close to the action touting him as the next Lawful Leader – a champion 17-time winning grey, trained by the Late Peter Miller for Mary Slack. But Kensington Gore could win this if he jumps.
Mike Azzie holds something of a statistical stranglehold on this race with his four-pronged attack, headed by the Brazillian-bred Strike Master. This 5yo stands out as the currently in-form Azzie horse.
Strike Master has only registered one of his three career wins on the sand, but has been consistent and game enough to suggest that he could well be equal to the demands of this task. He caught the eye when slow away and finishing 4,50 lengths behind Mr Tobin at his third last outing, when receiving 4,50kgs from him. That was no great shakes on the face of it, but it was a course and distance measure and is probably strong enough, given his last two forward sprints. He Jumps from the 6 gate with Karl Zechner in the saddle.
The balance of the Azzie quartet are less in favour in terms of current form.
Lochlorien is a 6yo son of Var and was rated highly enough to take his place as a reserve runner in last year’s Emerald Cup. His form in his subsequent twelve run has hardly been inspiring though with two fourth-placed cheques the best he could muster. He is probably the class horse in the race, and this would be our only reason to include him as a possible place getter.
City Of Bells ran a poor 17,50 lengths behind Silver Specialist at this track last Tuesday and will have to up his game dramatically to have any shout. Like sentiments apply to the twice- winning Fort Wood gelding Eugenes, who has his first run in seven months and will in all likelihood need a few outings to reach race fitness.
The lethal combination-on any surface- of Piere Strydom and Sean Tarry team up with the well-bred Fall Of Troy.This son of Western Winter attracted betting support at each of his first 6 runs, and eventually put it all together with an explosive win when trying sand for the first time.
That was over the 1200m in November of 2011 at this track when beating Egoli Gas by 4,25 lengths. The fact that he has only raced thrice since raises many red flags and his last effort when a dismal 33 lengths off Zebulon in an MR 72 Handicap over a mile was shocking. He did however run a fair 1,75 length third behind Leprecorns Gift over 1200m at his previous start.
There is a question mark against Strydom riding him at the carded 52kgs, but he could be a factor if we draw a line through that awful last effort.
Gavin Van Zyl’s Liquid Motion has the pole position draw, but ran a most disappointing race behind Mr Tobin last Tuesday at this venue. His 10,75 lengths behind top sand specialist, Mr Tobin, was a step backwards after two promising sand sprints. He may be more comfortable over the 1450m and warrants place considerations. .
Bay Of Gibraltar ran in Kimberley last Saturday and disappointed when finishing 9,75 lengths off Caryl’s Law in the Recall Security Mile. He never showed there and will have to improve dramatically.
Romeo Francis sends out the former Doug Campbell and then more recently Duncan Howells trained Kahal gelding Castle Ross, whose recent form is nothing short of diabolical. He has his first try on the sand and may also need the run. There is nothing to suggest he should be considered but it should be note that he was carded to run at the Turffontein meeting of Thursday 9 August as this edition went to print .
With no genuine standout selection in the race, we are siding with Mike Azzie’s recently consistent Brazillian-bred Strike Master, who looks well overdue for another win.
Fitness and home turf advantage could give him the edge over the new Woodruff charge Kensington Gore, while Liquid Motion may could be worth another chance and may be good enough with the good draw over the shorter trip, to fill third position.