South African horseracing proudly showcases its finest at Kenilworth on Saturday with the running of one of the African continent’s truly great races. The R2,5 million Gr1 J&B Met boasts a proud history of achievement and an honour roll of champions and legends.
The 2013 renewal of the race that will bring our universe to a virtual standstill late on Saturday afternoon, sees a typically outstanding field of sixteen going to post for this 2000m epic battle of wits, ability and raw courage. Everybody who is anybody in the sport of kings is represented, and each and every runner will have their supporters. From our top horses, to owners across the spectrum, training yards big and small, and international-class race riders. It is everyman’s race to win and Mzansi is ready to fly!
Two notable absentees in this year’s race are the Mike De Kock and Mike Bass yards. These two powerful operations have produced the winners of eight of the past fourteen runnings, with De Kock winning it in 1999 with Horse Chestnut, 2000 with Badger’s Coast and in 2012 with Igugu. Bass won it in 2001 with Bunter Barlow, and then three times in the glory Pocket Power years from 2007 to 20009, with his full sister, River Jetez, winning it in 2010. Trainers with runners on Saturday that have won it previously include Sean Tarry with Alastor in 2005. Alastor was ridden there by Garth Puller, who sends out Ice Machine on Saturday as his first Met runner as a trainer. Puller gives jockey Karl Neisius an opporrtunity to ride his first Met winner after close to forty years of trying! Brett Crawford trained the 2003 winner Angus for the Sabine Plattner Racing team. Crawford sends out the fancied Jackson and Black Wing, while the Plattner silks will be worn by Martial Eagle trained by Yogas Govender, who took over the reins from Crawford.
Jockey Bernard Fayd’herbe has won the race three times on Pocket Power for the Bass’, while Glen Hatt who will partner the only 3yo King Of Pain for Joey Ramsden, has been victorious twice with Bunter Barlow in 2001 and River Jetez in 2010 – both incidentally also for Mike Bass. Piere Strydom, who rides Pomodoro, won the Met in the Plattner silks in 2003 on Angus. The leading stallion ranks are also well represented with four Silvanos, taking on three Dynastys and two Jet Masters. No invidual breeder has more than one runner, while Ingrid and Markus Jooste are the only owners with more than two runners. They have the former Derby winner Bravura with Joey Ramsden, and Hill Fifty Four who is trained by Vaughan Marshall.
In the age group stakes, the 4yo’s dominate with seven runners, with three 5yo’s and three 7yo’s participating. There are two 6yo’s, and one 3yo. Beach Beauty is the only mare in the race. There is an element of international flavour too, with Dean Kannemeyer’s In Writing bred in Argentina and racing for the UK-based Fieldspring Racing. Master Plan’s owner Fred Crabbia races in Singapore, while the Run For It part owners Dennis and Gael Evans’ Newbury Racing have had tremendous success in the East over the past months. King Of Pain’s part-owners the Naiks, will fly out from Mauritius for the race, while the Kieswetters live overseas and their son Craig is a wicket-keeper batsman in the England cricket side.
Building A Dynasty
The race is characterised by a nominal weight range spread of just 2,5kgs between the first fifteen runners. 3yo King Of Pain carries bottomweight of 53kgs. Brett Crawford’s Gr1 Daily News winner Jackson will be a popular first choice for many. Bred by Highlands Stud, the Gr1 Daily News winner has bounced back from a disastrous July effort and run three good races in the build- up to the Met. He has run behind champion Variety Club at his two most recent starts in the Green Point Stakes and the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate and acquitted himself well in both races. Jackson was probably not flattered when running quite prominently in the Queen’s Plate and then pipping Pomodoro by a nostril. It would have been a lot more impressive visually had Jackson been dropped out to last , and then allowed to fly late as he has done in the past. He also pulled up distressed after that race, but showed his wellbeing with an impressive public gallop last Thursday. With Variety Club not taking his place here, Jackson will have every chance from his 5 draw, and with a ready made pacemaker at his disposal, there should be no excuses for him to return to winning ways.
On A Wing & A Prayer
Jackson’s stablemate Black Wing will be ridden by top jockey Felix Coetzee and looks the likely pacemaker if nothing else goes up early in the race. Bred by Summerhill Stud, the son of Kahal ran a cracker in the Peninsula Handicap when storming through late to be beaten just three lengths by Hill Fifty Four. Black Wing is 3kgs better off here with the Marshall horse, and has drawn in midfield. He put in an impressive gallop last Thursday, and will strip a fit horse on Saturday.
Sipping July Cocktails
Sean Tarry and Chris Van Niekerk team up with the 2012 Vodacom Durban July winner Pomodoro Bred by his owner Chris Van Niekerk, Pomodoro has been grabbing headlines since returning from his rest after his July win, to register a dazzling sprint win and then followed up easily over a mile. Pomodoro ran a cracker in the Queen’s Plate when collared late by Jackson and finishing within 2,30 lengths of Variety Club. Contrary to the commentator’s observations of him having taken the ‘shortest route home’ in South Africa’s prestigious mile, the position of the false rail that afternoon meant that his rails dash was a longer way home than both Variety Club (down centre) and Jackson (down the outside). So that was a great effort and after a superb public gallop, Sean Tarry labelled his 8 draw ‘perfect.’ With a top class jockey aboard and a smooth preparation, he must surely finish in the top three.
On The Beach
The only member of the fairer sex, Dennis Drier’s Beach Beauty, goes for a ladies double and will be looking to follow in the footprints of the brilliant Igugu, who won this race last year. She comes in as the best handicapped horse in the race. Beach Beauty ran a 1,85 lengths fifth in this race last year after being bumped at a crucial stage and will be looking to atone for that disappointment. Bred by Trevor Armitage, the daughter of Dynasty is a difficult ride who appears to have been mastered by Sean Cormack, who has ridden her at her last 7 starts, for 4 wins. She won the Premier Trophy in December,and then annihilated her own sex in the Gr1 Maine Chance Farms Paddock Stakes three weeks ago. Beach Beauty appears to have reached her peak in terms of strength and maturity, and her confidence boosting prep by a bang in form Dennis Drier yard, will mean that she goes into the race a serious runner. As we already suggested, she is a difficult ride and a lot will depend on where Sean Cormack can place and settle her.
Anyone For Seconds?
He must be just about the best three time winner on earth, and Justin Snaith’s Run For It will be looking to convert his near misses to a victory after his breathtaking effort in the race last year. Bred by Maine Chance Farms, Run For It ran on terrifically down the inside rail of the final stages of the 2012 Met and finished just 1,35 lengths off Igugu. He finished third the previous year. The son of Dynasty looked a million dollars at the public gallop last Thursday when he showed off with his head tucked into his chest, before stretching out well at the end of his gallop. It is obviously disturbing to hear whispers of health issues at the Snaith yard, but with 39 runners on the day, they won’t be allowing a few aches and pains to stop the marketing machine. Run For It ran a disappointing race in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate when finishing in midfield, but his second in the Premier Trophy behind Beach Beauty when running on strongly gave us plenty of hope. And just like Beach Beauty has an affinity with Sean Cormack, Run For It responds to the kind hands of Bernard Fayd’herbe. While the fact that he is drawn widest does not boost our confidence, we do believe that he will have every chance to slot in and run on at them. Traffic issues aside, Run For It is the value horse in the race and he will be finishing things off when a few others are stopping.
Making Magic Movies
Gavin Van Zyl’s SA Classic winner Slumdogmillionaire has drawn against the paint and must be a serious contender for top honours. His two prep runs after a nine month break in 2012 may appear quite ordinary on paper, but the shrewdies may well detect some method in the catch a monkey slowly approach by the astute Van Zyl. After an inauspicious fourth behind Silver Age in the Christmas Handicap, Slumdogmillionaire ran fifth and 3,10 lengths behind Variety Club in the Queen’s Plate on his Cape debut. An interesting aspect of that run was the fact that everybody in front of him was at their top end, while Slumdogmillionaire was just getting going. He was also one of the horses that went the furthest on the false start, and it takes a good horse to bounce back from that. That, together with what we saw at the public gallops, indicates as about as near as possible that one gets to a perfect prep. A vital cog for aspirant winners. Bred by Gavin Schafer and named by television personality Jimmy Lithgow, the son of Strike Smartly only has his seventh run on Saturday, and if not overawed by the occasion, could go close.
The Supporting Role
Slumdogmillionaire’s stablemate Bulsara carries the famous yellow and black Oppenheimer silks and has won 4 of 35 starts to date. Bred by Mauritzfontein Stud, the Silvano gelding is not getting any younger and has not won since cracking the Gr3 London News Stakes over two years ago. Jockey MJ Odendaal was pleased with his quiet prep run when finishing eighth and 3,75 lengths behind Variety Club in the Queen’s Plate. Well drawn at 7, Bulsara will have his supporters at double figure odds and could well be a nice quartet kicker for the more creative punter.
Sting In The Tale
Cape champion trainer Joey Ramsden takes the plunge with the very smart 3yo King Of Pain, who wears blinkers for the first time. Bred by Arc En Ciel Stud, the winner of 5 of his 8 starts, comes in on a handy 53kgs, and has been touted as a fellow who is crying out for the ground. After a sensational and courageous short head win over Cape Guineas winner Capetown Noir in the Selangor Cup, King Of Pain ran on steadily to finish a not disgraced 4,90 lengths fourth to the winner in the Guineas. King of Pain was originally named Diego Rivera (after the South American artist who was married to Frieda Kahlo), but a penchant for the music of Sting saw his flamboyant trainer change his name . He is out of the first crop of Greys Inn, who was trained by Mike de Kock to win the July in 2004 for Mrs Oppenheimer. That was the 10th anniversary of our first democratic elections, and Greys Inn happened to be the no 10 horse who carried a special SA flag on his saddle cloth.Horse Chestnut was the previous 3yo to win the Met.
Of Brave Heart
Our current SA Champion jockey Anton Marcus teams up with the enigmatic former Cape Derby winner Bravura, who is King Of Pain’s stablemate. The gelding had little luck when stumbling in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate and falling away to finish eleventh. Bravura has not won since scoring in the Gr2 Green Point Stakes in November 2011, but lifted his game dramatically when giving Igugu a major fright, before going down under a half length for second in the 2012 J&B Met. Bred by Normandy Stud, the seven-time winner put up a good gallop on Thursday, and the Marcus Ramsden combination is a lethal one. Bravura jumps froma nice draw.
Climb The Mountain
One of the most improved horses around, Hill Fifty Four only won his maiden a year ago, and has been brought along slowly through the divisions in admirable fashion. Bred by Klawervlei Stud, the son of Captain Al is a winner of 6 of his 11 starts, and threw his hat into the Met ring with a storming victory in the Peninsula Handicap at his last start when beating Punta Arenas. That interestingly was a follow up on his previous victory in the Gr3 Algoa Cup, when accounting for the same horse. Punta Arenas runs later today in the Gr2 J&B Jet Stayers. Hill Fifty Four had Black Wing three lengths behind him in the Peninsula Handicap, but now meets the Crawford horse at 3kgs worse terms. That should bring them a lot closer, and Hill Fifty Four is a dangerous frontrunning sort.
Two To Tango
The Eastern Cape Derby winner Tribal Dance gets thrown into the deep end here after a rather ordinary prep run in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate when he never showed. His sterling victory in the Gr3 Schweppes 2200 in Champions Season last year showed that he has the class and ability to take his place in this race – even though at Gr1 level he may be better off with 400m further to run. Bred by Geoff Armitage, Tribal Dance now races in the interests of Mrs Bridgette Radebe and is the second Marshall string based on riding arrangements.
The Strategic Stuff
The 4yo Jet Master gelding Master Plan has pulled a nice draw at 4, and the 2012 KZN Derby and Champions Cup winner is being whispered on street corners as the dark horse of the race. He has also attracted early betting support. Bred by Varsfontein Stud, this very smart five time winner is a half kilo better off with Beach Beauty for a two length defeat in the Calulo Service Premier Trophy at his penultimate start. He had excuses when easing late in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate to finish only 3,50 lengths behind the brilliant Variety Club. His prep looks promising and Master Plan should be spot-on come Saturday.
The Booker Prize
Probably best known as one of South Africa’s top stayers, the 2012 Gr1 Ladbrokes Gold Cup winner In Writing ran a cracker when sixth and only 3,30 lengths behind Past Master in this race in 2011. Dean Kannemeyer’s chestnut is in the form of his life having won 4 of his last 7 starts, and is a versatile fellow who has won from 1450m to 3200m. Bred in Argentina by Abolengo, it is worrying that he missed the official Met gallop last week as he had not eaten up and his health was being monitored. Well drawn at 3, In Writing will be ridden by the underrated Grant Behr, who knows him well and was backed at long odds earlier this week.
Shaken Not Stirred
Making history as a first Met runner for legendary former jockey Garth Puller, the Meaker family’s Ice Machine is one of four Silvano progeny in the field. A talented winner of his 12 starts, the 4yo was withdrawn at the start of his previous engagement by jockey Anton Marcus and was found to be lame behind. He then went straight into the Penisula Handicap and finished over ten lengths behind. His interrupted preparation is not ideal, but Ice Machine gets the services of veteran jockey Karl Neisius who is very keen to register a first winner in the big one in his hometown. Bred by his owner Roy Meaker, Ice Machine only needs to recapture some of earlier form to have a shout for place money.
Made To Fly
A sensational forward performance behind Variety Club in the Gr1 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate booked Martial Eagle his Met berth for leading owner, Sabine Plattner. Bred by Wilgerbosdrift, the son of Silvano was formerly trained by Dennis Drier in KZN, and has achieved a new lease on life down at Rondeberg on the West Coast. His seven wins have been achieved from 1400m to 1600m, and this is his first foray behind a mile. The jury is out on whether he will get a hard run 2000m, and his dam only won up to 1200m. Martial Eagle has drawn one from the outside, and will no doubt be dropped in by jockey Aldo Domeyer.
Final Fashion Fling
The gallant Fabiani is the genuine longshot of the field and has a third tilt at winning the Met. The Glen Kotzen -trained gelding is one of three 7yo’s in the race this year. He is from the second last crop of the outstanding Model Man, who sired his first winner some twenty-one years ago. A winner of 6 of his 33 starts, his career highpoint was a brilliant win in the 2009 Gr Green Point Stakes and while his recent form is not highly inspiring, he is 5kgs better off with Hill Fifty Four after finishing 2,10 lengths behind him in the Algoa Cup at the end of November last year. Bred by Messrs Muller, Ratner and Salzman, he will be helped by a 2 draw and the fact that jockey Grant Van Niekerk knows him very well.
Making The Call
The selection of a winner is not made easier by the competitive nature of the race and the question marks against the preparation of some of the leading contenders. The aspect of a genuine pace over the easy Kenilworth 2000m is a poser that has been debated at length. There is no standout pacesetter in the race and this could throw a curved ball into the mix. Beach Beauty is well handicapped and only needs to continue her roll to come in with a fighting chance. We are suggesting that she will be good enough to beat Run For It, with Jackson and Pomodoro scrapping over the minor money. The 3yo King Of Pain and the lightly raced Slumdog-millionaire are both exciting prospects and could make their presence felt.