The first preparatory shots of the Highveld Spring Season are fired in anger on Saturday as a smart field of eleven go to post for the R200 000 Gr3 Joburg Spring Challenge. The quality contest sees trainer Geoff Woodruff holding a powerful hand with a three-way coupling headed by the very smart Silvano gelding Golden Crest.
It is pleasing to note that Phumelela has proactively catered for the demands and needs of trainers by introducing the early season WFA double features a few years ago. The separate fillies and colts races serve as build-up events for the Highveld Spring Season. This year’s line-up includes past winner Pierre Jourdan and sees the commencement of a campaign trail for a few promising sorts,that connections will no doubt be hoping ends with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Geoff Woodruff has handled the emotional demands and public expectancy with aplomb after marrying into one of South Africa’s famous horseracing family names and while he is yet to emulate his famous father-in-law Terrance Millard, he has performed admirably by consistently producing the feature winners over many years.
Woodruff gets a golden opportunity to put some more Group race silverware on his crowded mantelpiece when he sends out the consistent Golden Crest for the Meaker family in Saturday’s feature.
Golden Crest is a fellow that has been brought along slowly and avoided the hurly burly hard-slogging classic and feature school where most his peers were being campaigned, as he was allowed to develop slowly and win his races.
He has done that remarkably well winning four of his eight career starts.
In his first shot at the bigger league, he ran a cracker when only downed late by Gavin Van Zyl’s Eton Square in the Listed Jubilee Handicap. Eton Square was to go on and confirm the merit of that run with a cracker of a 40-1 fourth and only 1,10 lengths off Pomodoro in the Gr1 Vodacom Durban July. Word has it that he is headed for international waters.
Golden Crest steps out here under 59,5kgs under Marco Van Rensburg, who has won a race on him. This represents a four month break since the Jubilee, but that could work in his favour as he races fresh over a distance probably slightly short of his maturing best. He looks like a horse destined for better things and Roy and Gladys Meaker will be expecting plenty from him. He shouldn’t disappoint them.
Golden Crest’s stablemates House Of Wax and Wittenberg are lesser lights and older horses.
The 5yo House Of Wax has not drawn well and also returns from a rest. The Listed Drum Star winner, who races for his breeders Myron Berzack and Brian Joffee, had excuses at his two SA starts thereafter – clipping heels and hitting the rails when finishing out of the money at both. In between these two runs he was floated North of the Limpopo to Zimbabwe where he ran a fair fourth and two lengths off the local legend Earl Of Surrey in the OK Challenge. He could produce the goods after a three month rest and looks a reasonable place prospect at longish odds.
The 6yo five-time winner Wittenberg is likely to be the most fittest of Woodruff’s three as he ran just three weeks ago when finishing unplaced behind Tender Twilight in a Pinnacle Stakes. He has probably reached the pinnacle of his career though, and does not strike one as a likely winner against the better runners.
Ormonde Ferraris and Sherman Brown team up with the exciting Western Winter gelding Snowdon from a 2 draw, and look the biggest danger to Golden Crest’s aspirations.
Snowdon has won 6 of his 15 starts and comes in here off a ten week rest and some sterling Group efforts.
This will be only his fifth race this year after running consecutive forward places in the Gr2 Hawaii Stakes, the Gr1 Golden Horse and the Gr1 Mercury Sprint. Rested since that good effort behind SA Champion Sprinter What A Winter, he looks to be a very serious runner here. On his Hawaii run he should technically be held by Pierre Jourdan at level weights, but he looks far brighter than the Alexander horse at this stage of the game.
Former Mike Bass-trained Premiers Trophy winner Chesalon, has his first outing this season after a no show in the Champions Cup on Super Saturday when plodding into sixth and 4,55 lengths behind Master Plan. He is now based with Mike Azzie.
The exacting demands of a fairly tough Champions Season campaign may have caught up with Chesalon there, and lest we forget how unfortunate he was to go down narrowly to Pomodoro in the Vodacom Durban July. He finished in third and just over a length behind in Africa’s big race after costing himself valuable ground with hanging antics that were probably better suited to a big top environment.
Robbie Fradd rides Chesalon for the first time, and the gelding showed with his top effort behind Tales Of Bravery in the Drill Hall Stakes that he can run well when coming out fresh.
Pierre Jourdan won this race as a 4yo two years ago, but has been woefully disappointing in recent times.
He gets a big tick in the include box by virtue of the engagement of Piere Strydom. The latter becomes the seventh jockey to be tried on a horse that has campaigned to a career high merit rating of 116.
The Summerhill-bred ran a promising third behind Horse Of The Year, Variety Club, in the Gold Challenge but his subsequent performances in the Durban July and Champions Cup were rather tame and devoid of reasonable explanation. He returns to his home turf and Strydom could get him excited for his racing again – but we would like to see some on-track action and no excuses, before we recommend him again with any confidence.
The good-looking grey Toreador gelding Link Man started favourite for the Emerald Cup last week, but could do no better than a 9,75 length no-show plod behind winning stablemate Meadow Magic. We did mention after that race that we have torn our hair out over him and that he had done his time in the ring for us. He is the highest rated horse in the race, but the handicapper may need to start providing some relief on that front. But it does not take a professor to work out that he could win this if running to his best ability – and the worrying factor is that Anton Marcus jumps aboard.
This is the difficult part of analysing races – we don’t really know what lies behind Marcus’ call to choose the De Kock horse above Golden Crest, on whom he has already won two races. If he didn’t have the choice, then it really matters nothing. And if he did, we are gambling against his better judgement. We feel that wherever Link Man runs, Golden Crest will be a few lengths ahead of him.
Lucky Houdalakis sends out a coupling of King’s Entourage and the 8yo Zorba’s Tale, who has pulled a pole position draw.
King’s Entourage is a winner of 6 from 19 and no slouch on his day. But he appears to have lost his spark and enthusiasm and has run a host of below-par races recently. He last found the winner’s enclosure in March when getting up hard ridden under Anton Marcus to win an MR 94 Handicap over the mile at Turffontein
The Australian-bred Zorba’s Tale has shown glimpses of a form return of late, and has been a loyal servant to his well-known owner Jess Kyriacou, for whom he has won six races. He ran on steadily when finishing 3,50 lengths behind Tender Twilight over the course and distance last time. It is of some concern though that he came back lame there, and his well-being must be taken on trust. He may well be a big budget quartet inclusion and is as game as the day is long, although not well in at the weights.
Derby Trial winner Zambucca is a three-time winner, who may just be a touch close at the weights with the likes of Chesalon and Snowdon to be considered a serious threat. He finished a fair fourth behind Pomodoro in the SA Derby, before going last in the Daily News 2000 behind champion 3yo Jackson. Zambucca would probably be more competitive over further than this.
Weiho Marwing now trains the former Justin Snaith colt Soweto Slew, who has put in one fair effort since relocating from Port Elizabeth.
The son of Oratorio challenged strongly when going down narrowly to Gold Site over the Vaal 1000m on his first run after a four month absence, and if that wasn’t a freak effort, he may well be coming into his own as a 4yo and fulfilling some of that smart early promise.
A high quality spectacle awaits enthusiasts and much will depend on the match fitness of the contestants.
With a weight range of a mere half kilo separating top and bottom weights, we should really side with the class and go with Chesalon or Snowdon. But we feel that the strong galloping Silvano gelding Golden Crest may catch them all napping, and he is the narrow selection to beat Snowdon and Chesalon.
Pierre Jourdan is always a danger in Johannesburg, and could be a factor under his namesake if stripping fresh. A sideshow power for punters may well be whether to ignore a Marcus ride in the exotics. It takes courage, especially when De Kocks saddles them. But we have included Link Man just once too often at our peril!