Champion three year old miler Variety Club celebrates his 2012 Champions Season swansong in grand style when he takes on five older rivals in Saturday’s R700 000 Gr1 Rising Sun Gold Challenge over 1600m at Clairwood. He stands out head and shoulders above all, except maybe for Tales Of Bravery.
It goes without saying that a six horse field for a race of this nature is terribly disappointing . While entertaining spectacles can still be provided by quality small fields, the key industry driver of betting turnover must be adversely affected and if one takes cognisance of the record that at least half of Saturday’s line-up have had recent medical issues, then the chances of further depletion before the jump are very real.
Sweat and Tears
The Gold Challenge is also a Gr1 race with something of a yo-yo stake pot that mirrors the health and well-being of the local horseracing industry. It has not been a happy 21st century for the race. This year’s gross stake is down to R700 000 after R750 000 was on offer in 2010. In 2000 the stake was R500 000, and this reached a low of R300 000 in 2002, before being increased to R400 000 in 2003.
Variety Club is on song and should win this feature without too much of a sweat. A winner of eight of his thirteen starts, he appears to be growing in stature and is as close as we will get to untouchable over a mile on African soil. He gets 1,5kgs from each of his five opponents.
Not that we needed it, but Jackson stamped the Variety Club form with his superb win last Saturday in the G1 Daily News 2000. Jackson had no chance with Variety Club when beaten 2,25 lengths in the KRA Guineas on 5 May, and Joey Ramsden’s Var colt looks to make it a hundred percent record from his two Champions Season starts, before returning to his home base in Cape Town after this race. One is inclined to want to dream up a reason that he can’t win.
Where do we start? Well he has not run at Clairwood, but he is very familiar with left-handed tracks from his home province. The Clairwood straight is a long one and the absence of a genuine pacemaker could see Anton Marcus having to do things the hard way out front. In the KRA Guineas his owners exploited another of their runners in Unnanounced. They don’t have a hare on Saturday. And even if Variety Club has to make his own running, who is going to be running on and chasing him in the final 200m? We think it will be Tales Of Bravery.
Vaughan Marshall’s Drill Hall Stakes winner is fit and well and in our book the only horse capable of getting near Variety Club. On paper he could even beat the champion. A mature five year old who now appears to have struck his prime, Tales Of Bravery beat Chesalon in the Drill Hall by 1,75 lengths at level weights. Chesalon followed up by running a smart third in the Gr2 Betting World 1900 a fortnight ago.
At Variety Club and Tales Of Bravery’s sole clash in the Gr1 L’Ormarin’s Queen’s Plate in January , the younger miler beat Marshall’s gelding by 1 length when receiving 5 kgs from him. On Saturday Variety Club only gets 1,5kgs from Tales Of Bravery over the same trip. That brings them a little close for comfort, and makes for an interesting clash, in a race that really does look devoid of pace.
Pierre Jourdan has his first run for his new owner partnership and his last outing before lining up for the Vodacom Durban July. The November Handicap winner has not run since turning out for the Horse Chestnut at Turffontein at end March. He finished ten lengths behind Dancewiththedevil after being reported not striding out in that race. His fitness could well be in question and his major aim will be the big race in a month’s time.
Mike Bass fields two four year olds, headed by the enigmatic Australian-bred Castlethorpe who ran fourth in this race last year behind Dancewiththedevil. He has yet to definitively fit the mould of a sprinter, a miler or a stayer, and is a horse that needs to step up soon.
Castlethorpe has won two sprint races in the interim and appears to have developed into a smashing physical specimen. He ran on quite well behind Delago Deluxe in the Golden Horse Casino Sprint at the end of May, to finish in sixth and only 2,30 lengths off. It must be said that besides his Gr3 Winter Guineas win in the middle of last year, Castlethorpe has largely flattered to deceive. He gets an opportunity here to prove that he warrants a run in the July.
It is quite a surprise to see Mike Bass’ smart sprinter What A Winter in this line-up. He has only gone the mile twice in his career, and won the first of these when finishing with a burst to beat Top Seller by 1,75 lengths in the 2010 Gr 2 Selangor Cup. He then had a bash at the Cape Guineas, but could do no better than a tame sixth 2,30 lengths behind Solo Traveller.
What A Winter has been confined to sprinting ever since but produces the odd finishing effort that suggests that he is a horse who should appreciate the mile again at this more mature stage of his development.
That said he was reported lame on the near- hind when running a dismal 8,30 lengths off Delago Deluxe in the Golden Horse Casino Sprint two weeks ago. There will be no getting away with even minor ailments against the likes of Variety Club, so his soundness and general readiness will have to be taken on trust. We cannot see him winning a hard run mile.
Link Man has not distinguished himself in his last two runs and was trailed off in last place in both the Gr1 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate and the Gr1 Golden Horse Casino Sprint. In the Cape mile he apparently bled and last time his saddle slipped at Scottsville. Despite the De Kock factor, we cannot fancy him against fitter horses.
All told, a small field but an intriguing contest nevertheless. The pace is a worrying factor. If they crawl, it could end up being an extended sprint affair. Variety Club is versatile and has the speed to carry the day. But that scenario then brings in the likes of What A Winter. Conversely, Tales Of Bravery will need a decent clip to bring out his best finishing effort.
Great horses overcome the obstacles though. We suggest Variety Club will maintain his winning streak.