The Miller Dark Horse Gold Vase always shaped up as being one of the toughest races to unravel on the Vodacom Durban July card, but even so few punters were prepared for the 50/1 upset delivered by Grey Cossack after a thrilling finish to this 3000m handicap.
Seventeen lined up for this lap-and-a-bit of Greyville racecourse and it was Two Strikes who started as a somewhat wobbly 9/2 joint favourite after a promising third in the Gr 3 Lonsdale Stirrup Cup four weeks earlier. Sharing top billing on bookies’ boards was Jeppe’s Reef, the very easy winner of a mundane Clairwood 2500m handicap in June. Knight To Remember was strongly supported from an ante-post call of 12/1 to start at 5/1. Grey Cossack enjoyed a good Cape summer campaign, but had been completely out of form in KZN and went off as an unconsidered outsider after finishing some six lengths further behind Two Strikes in the Lonsdale Stirrup Cup.
Whether you liked the actual outcome of the Gold Vase or not, and chances are you didn’t, it would be extremely churlish to deny that Grey Cossack put up one of the best displays of sheer guts that we will see all year. Taken straight to an early lead by Richard Fourie, who was substituting for the indisposed Morne Winnaar, Grey Cossack set a reasonable enough pace from Predestination and Tamarillo, with Rapid Flow and Atlantic Oak next in line. Two Strikes and Knight To Remember were both held up well off the pace. Predestination made a brave bid to pinch the race and set sail for home early in the straight, with Atlantic Oak coming forward to challenge strongly as well. The latter didn’t really go through with her effort inside the final 200m, but Grey Cossack was starting to come back at Predestination, just when the latter’s supporters thought that the pacemaker had been taken care of.
Predestination dug down deep in a gallant bid to retain his advantage, but Grey Cossack kept coming back at him remorselessly and was driven out by Fourie to regain the lead in the dying strides. The two crossed the line together, but to the naked eye there was no doubt that Grey Cossack had come back to snatch first place and the photo finish camera quickly confirmed it. Knight To Remember ran on stoutly to finish one length further back in third, a very good effort from a gelding whose running style doesn’t make him the ideal sort for Greyville, but like many of those who contested Saturday’s race he will more than likely resurface on the central Durban track for the Gr 1 Gold Cup on July 30th. Jeppe’s Reef appeared to have every chance before finishing three-quarters of a length behind Knight To Remember in fourth, but Two Strikes never got competitive and could only stay on to be beaten a total of 2.35 lengths into sixth place.
Winners of the Gold Vase have a very mediocre record in the Gold Cup and however small a penalty Grey Cossack will receive for this short head success won’t improve hi chances of succeeding where so many have failed before. A selective reading of the form book may suggest he has a squeak of completing the big Greyville stayers’ double, though, for Predestination did finish third in the 2010 Gold Cup, and one thing that Grey Cossack possesses in buckets is stamina. Whatever the Gold Cup brings, Grey Cossack achieved his Durban-born but Cape Town resident trainer Carl Burger’s long-held ambition of winning a race in his old hometown, and it wasn’t half a bad race to win, either. Most punters would not have shared in Burger’s joy, but nobody said racing should be easy and handicap racing is by definition all the less so.
Quite where Grey Cossack gets his stamina from could be an exercise that will keep pedigree buffs occupied for some time. He is by the Danehill stallion Fanatic Dane, whose three wins in a short career came over no further than 1000m. His dam Desert Fields, by Salaadim, won three races over 1200/1600m, and in fact not one of Grey Cossack’s first four dams won beyond 1600m. One could argue that Grey Cossack stays twice as far as the maximum that his pedigree suggests he should, but it isn’t only on the racecourse itself that horses don’t always follow the script and here appears to be a horse who has turned out to be a wholly different animal from what might reasonably have been expected.
Not that his connections will care two hoots. Four-year-old Grey Cossack was a R25 000 weanling acquisition from the 2007 Sibaya mixed sale. Bred by James Goodman, he has won three times from 22 starts for stakes of R416 765, having also been successful in a Listed handicap over 3200m at Kenilworth last December.
.Miller Dark Horse Gold Vase (SAf-G2) (7/2) Greyville, South Africa, July 2, R350.000, 3000m, turf, good, 3.07.33 (CR 3.05.32). GREY COSSACK (SAF), 54.0, b g 4, Fanatic Dane (NZ) – Desert Fields (SAF) by Salaadim. Owner A J van Huyssteen and B Katzen; breeder J M Goodman (SAF); trainer C J Burger; jockey R Fourie (R218.750) Predestination (AUS), 55.5, b g 5, Dubai Destination – Dragoncharm by Silver Hawk Knight To Remember (SAF), 54.5, gr g 4, The Sheik (SAF) – Model Royal (SAF) by Model Man (SAF) Margins: nose, 1, ¾ Also ran: Jeppe’s Reef (SAF) 52.0, In Writing (ARG) 60.0, Two Strikes (SAF) 58.0, Atlantic Oak (GB) 56.0, Aslan (SAF) 58.5, Another Giant (AUS) 52.0, What’s Going On (SAF) 52.0, Knight’s Inlet (SAF) 52.5, Golden Parachute (NZ) 56.0, Membrado (ARG) 54.0, Arcola (SAF) 58.0, Rapid Flow (SAF) 53.5, Tamarillo (SAF) 52.5, Tres Forte (SAF) 53.5