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Let The Games Begin

Gr3 Winter Guineas at Kenilworth on Saturday

Anton Marcus flies to the Mother City to ride Variety Club

No contest. On paper that’s our simple conclusion that Cape champion three year old Variety Club will win the Gr3 Tekkietown Winter Guineas to be run over 1600m at Kenilworth on Saturday.

The opening leg of the Western Cape’s Winter Triple Crown looks to have been dished up on a silver platter for Joey Ramsden’s brilliant Var chestnut. Jockey Anton Marcus gives the Turffontein meeting a miss and flies in to the Mother City to partner a local superstar that provided him with the Selangor Cup-Cape Guineas double. Lest we forget that Variety Club  also came within a heartbeat of winning the Gr1 l’Ormarins Queen’s Plate.


A question mark on match fitness could be the only logical and conceivable chink in the armour of a chestnut that has coined a hundred corny headlines. There are no Gimmethegreenlights amongst Variety Club’s eight opponents on Saturday and the two horses closest to him on the handicap, Astro News and Tribal Dance, are also both returning from last having seen racing action on J&B Met day.

Trainer Joey Ramsden, who won the Gr3 Umzimkhulu Stakes at Scottsville this past weekend for the same owners,  confirmed earlier this week that his charge is ‘reasonably fit but not at his peak.’  Which, with a season rich in options ahead of him, makes full sense. And this race is as good a starting point as any.

Ramsden also came within a nostril of achieving the Winter Series perfect treble with the brilliant Winter Solstice in 2004, and probably has his best chance since to settle that little score.

So where to?

Astro News is one of two Fred Crabbia owned horses who are sent to post by Greg Ennion. He may have been somewhat flattered by his 1,95 lengths sixth behind Igugu in the J&B Met, although this slightly built son of Silvano was bashed around late in the Cape’s premier race by bigger bullies. Variety Club has him stone cold on his no excuses Cape Guineas run though, and he may need a bit further to show his best.

Owner Roy Eckstein seems to get a promising three year old every season with Vaughan Marshall,and Tribal Dance carries his bright yellow silks on Saturday. The son of Tiger Dance shed his maiden over the course and distance in November, but has not won in four starts since. He plodded on 5,75 lengths behind the brilliant Jackson in the Cape Derby and he may be more competitive over further.

Trainer Justin Snaith will have a fair guage of the merits of his Australian-bred Soweto Slew on a line through the Gimmethegreenlight and Variety Club collateral form. Grant Van Niekerk rides Hassen Adams’ colt from the 2 draw and while he has shown flashes of smart ability, it is difficult getting too excited about a horse that has been fairly and squarely beaten at his last two outings in the Eastern Cape.  A cursory glance at his overall form would even suggest that he doesn’t quite stay a hard-run mile, although he did win a Guineas Plate at Fairview in November last year.

Make a plan

The second of the Crabbia horses is the Varsfontein Stud bred Jet Master gelding Master Plan. He was beaten 4,75 lengths by the older Hammies Boy at his most recent start and the Bass gelding did not add much sparkle to that form  when going missing next time round in a similar strength MR96 Handicap when beaten seven lengths by Spy Glass.

Master PlanMaster Plan looks to unseat Variety Club

But Master Plan has that definitive scope about him that says he could well be miles ahead of the handicapper still. His trainer, one of the best judges of horseflesh, also expressed palpable excitement about his charge’s feature prospects in a recent post-race interview. And If anybody remotely has a clue as to how to dethrone Variety Club, then the appropriately named Master Plan’s jockey Glen Hatt,  is the best placed person to strategise that. He was, after all, Variety Club’s former regular rider.

The right button

Eric Sands sends out the Tiger Ridge gelding Final Button who gets the value added services of the milestone man, Karl Neisius. Final Button’s last run is best ignored as he was the victim of a rather injudicious ride by his young apprentice, who bizarrely chose the scenic route via Doncaster Road and Kenilworth Centre. He naturally faded late that day to finish a four length eighth off Lord Paramount after his exertions and may be worth another chance.

We don’t wish to get too carried away by interpreting riding arrangements, but it is probably fair to assume that Neisius could have probably ridden Soweto Slew or even Drum Tattoo, if he really wanted to. And astute punters will recall Andrew Fortune’s complimentary comments after he had won his maiden on Final Button, way back in May 2011. Fortune suggested that day that this fellow is way above average – and he has shown flashes of a serious engine at times.

Rain dance

The Glen Kotzen runner Stone Pine should  battle  to make his presence felt over this trip at level weights against the quality of the opposition. He put up a nice gallop over 1200m at Kenilworth last Saturday though and he has his second run since being gelded.

The stable have made no secret of the fact that their runner would relish some rain and his clearly best form was achieved in the winter months last year when he won twice in his first four starts. That rightfully earned him a ‘promising’ tag and he was aimed at the Derby, where he ran disappointingly.

While it is a sobering consideration that he ran the top-class Liancourt Rock to three lengths receiving a half kilo over the course and distance in November, he should nevertheless be a better proposition over the increased ground of the next two legs of this series. He is a quartet inclusion though as the Kotzen stable are hitting top form at the right time.

Winter Migrant is a handsome son of Western Winter who has only won once from his six starts but has his first run since being gelded.The Yogas Govender stable has been churning out the winners and this Plattner Racing home-bred could improve dramatically.

He made no friends at his last run when beaten at cramped odds by the older Gianduja over the course and distance and his best prospect looks to be a place cheque..

Mike Bass Racing is represented by the Fahal gelding Drum Tattoo and even from the best draw he looks to be making up numbers and is patently outclassed here.

Favour it

A fascinating race in prospect with the fitness of Variety Club the key to the treasure chest.

Joey Ramsden has been there and done it. Whatever master plan Glen Hatt may have,we’d frankly rather side with Ramsden’s colt who has faced the best of his generation and beaten them. That is even relying only half-heartedly on the weatherman’s crystal ball,  which suggests a rain-free week.

At level weights, we  confidently side with the classy Variety Club to pick up his seventh win at the expense of the promising Master Plan and the dark horse, Final Button. Include Stone Pine for the quartets.