The mark of a great player is in his ability to come back. The great champions have all come back from defeat. American golfer Sam Snead eloquently summed up the fighting spirit that characterises the indomitable attitude of the major contenders for the R2-million Gr1 President’s Champions Challenge, to be run over 2000m at Turffontein on Champions Day.
This richly endowed race has all the makings of a memorable contest.
Former Cape Derby and Green Point Stakes winner Bravura, and multiple Grade 1 winning mare Dancewiththedevil, are faced with the daunting prospect of lifting themselves off the canvas and dusting off the record of their below-par last runs. That is, if they are to stand any chance of getting the measure of a rising star in the Rock Of Gibraltar mare, Europa Point.
The Irish-bred De Kock galloper passed her first test at WFA Grade 1 level when scoring an emphatic victory in the Laurie Jaffee Empress Club Stakes over a mile at her last outing. The Wilgerbosdrift-owned Europa Point is unbeaten in five runs from five starts this season and with her illustrious stablemate Igugu a notable absentee from the Vodacom Durban July first stage entries, she looks a worthy successor as the stable flag-bearer.
On the WFA terms with conditions applicable in the Champions Challenge, she comes in at level weights with Dancewiththedevil and receives a handy 2,5kgs from Seal and a kilo from Bravura. Anthony Delpech partners her for the third time in her career after master strategist Anton Marcus won on her at her last outing. This could be a sinister pointer in Bravura’s favour.
The field of eleven runners is a mixed crew of getting-there and been-there sorts. With winning prize money paid from R1,2 million for the winner right down to R10 000 for eighth place, no quarter will be expected or given. The enormity of the R7,2 million rand occasion was underlined this week by Phumelela Marketing and Sales Executive Clyde Basel, who confirmed that invitations have been extended to President Jacob Zuma as well as the Gauteng Premier and the MEC of Economic Development.
The Turffontein 2000m standside circuit is also one of the toughest, but fairest tests. Jockeyship and race readiness will come into play in a fascinating multi-faceted duel. The draw is not a huge factor and there looks to be some pace with the likes of Seal and Galanthus around. It is quite a test of stamina as the runners head into the turn at the 1400m and start climbing the hill. The track rises 12m through the bend before levelling out as the runners turn into the straight at the 800m mark. The long home straight gives backmarkers ample opportunity to strut their stuff. In other words, no excuses!
Trainer Joey Ramsden has been celebrating Graded race winners in every major racing province of the country this season and he looks to be the only visitor capable of winning this race. He sends the five year old gelding Bravura out, equipped for the first time in cheek pieces. He is one of four offspring of Silvano running here.
Bravura’s first Gauteng appearance in the Horse Chestnut Stakes a month ago was not his best effort when fading to finish fifth 7,25 lengths behind Dancewiththedevil, giving the mare 2,5kgs. In defence of Bravura, he was reported lame after that race. On Saturday there is only 1kg difference between them.
An upbeat Ramsden was full of confidence and bubbling optimism earlier this week, suggesting that Bravura had overcome his troubles and that he was fit and would be ready to deliver the goods come Saturday. Ramsden added that he had every respect for St John Gray’s Dancewiththedevil and that rain would ‘waste all our time.’
Going – not Gone!
The knives were out for Dancewiththedevil when she ran a rare ‘poor’ race behind Europa Point in the Empress Club Stakes at her last start. She battled to quicken over that mile and the fast hard going was tendered as a pardon. She lacked her customary dash and stayed on tamely, finishing 4,5 lengths behind Mike De Kock’s mare at level weights. On Saturday they meet on the same terms and that threat of rain, referred to by Joey Ramsden, would work in Dancewiththedevil’s favour.
Gavin Van Zyl’s Seal is another who lost the plot somewhat at his last start in the Gr2 Colorado King Stakes where he set the pace and faded late to finish 2,75 lengths off Flirtation. In his defence, he was reported lame on the off-fore that afternoon. As a former SA Derby winner, he won’t be stopping when the whips are cracking but he is now 0,5kg worse off with Mike De Kock’s mare for that beating. He is also 1kg worse off with the consistent Galanthus on their Listed Wolf Power meeting at the beginning of February.
Piere Strydom knows Galanthus very well and he is a gelding who can be ridden with flexibility, depending on the prevailing pace and conditions. A dark horse in our book.
Flirtation was brilliantly ridden by Gavin Lerena to win the Colorado King Stakes in a perfect course and distance prep run. The Livanos’ mare has the benefit of the number 1 draw and gets the services of Glen Hatt, who rode her in an unsuccessful double bid in the 2011 Summer Cup. She can also handle the going whatever way it is served.
Safwan is the third De Kock runner. He is always thereabouts but has not won since winning the Greyville 1900 almost a year ago. He has a mountain to climb.
The rest do not inspire much confidence.
English Garden recorded his last win over a year ago in the SA Classic at Turffontein. He then ran impressive places in the SA Derby, the Daily News and the Vodacom Durban July. His four poor efforts since speak volumes of a horse with problems.
Young rider Grant Van Niekerk has been jocked off Galanthus’ stablemate Smanjemanje in favour of the experience of the veteran Robbie Fradd. The Kahal gelding has had just one pipe-opener since a low-key effort in the J&B Met when finishing 8,35 lengths off Igugu. His fitness is suspect and he is realistically a few lengths off the best on a good day.
Sean Tarry’s old warrior Buy And Sell was carded to run on the Vaal Sand on Tuesday this week. He is rising nine years of age and past his prime.
The Dynasty gelding Sage Throne is a half-brother to the well-performed Russian Sage. He has yet to win anything of note in his four career victories and looks in the deep end here and somewhat outclassed.
The weather could play a leading role. Without rain, we suggest a straight fight between Europa Point and the very talented, but luckless, Bravura. If the rain gods turn up, then Dancewiththedevil comes into the picture. Galanthus is the quartet kicker and a dark horse, almost overdue to win a prize fit for a President!