Recent unprecedented weather related disruptions to the KZN racing programme means that substantial current form is missing from the gift stocking for punters when the R200 000 Gr3 Christmas Handicap is run over a mile at Clairwood on Boxing Day.
There cannot be a surplus of festive cheer in the corridors of power in KwaZulu Natal horseracing at the moment with racing enthusiasts having to deal with a confusing roster of postponed, switched and abandoned meetings.
Besides the impact on the bottom line and the loss of lustre on the desirability of the product, trainers are also faced with seriously impaired race, work and fitness routines.It is enough to induce a sense of serious caution and perhaps even a chance to play your Lotto numbers rather than trying to analyse the facts.
A field of 14 runners lines up on a bumper card (there are upsides to losing meetings), and this is not a race for the faint of heart. There is bound to be a solid pace, with some regular pacers present. Colin Scott and MJ Odendaal have formed a formidable powerful combination on the East Coast and they will be holding thumbs that their Dynasty gelding Fourth Estate maintains his recent boost of enthusiasm.
Fourth Estate is a solid winner of 7 of 32 starts and cruised in last time to beat the capable frontrunner Always Al over the Greyville 1400m. The confidence from the connections and his rider that evening was tangible, and he won far more readily than the marging suggests.
He does meet Always Al on 2,5 kgs worse terms, but Fourth Estate was not at full stretch. His proven course and distance track record also boosts his prospects.
Jeff Freedman saddles the Requiem gelding Silver Age, who has not run since upsetting the odds last year. He is a lightly raced winner of 4 races from 11 starts, and fitness will have to be taken on trust. Anthony Delpech is an interesting jockey engagement. The high riding Dennis Drier and Sean Cormack team up with the strong front runner Top Mark.
The Brazillian bred son of Mark Of Esteem is never far off them and gets the blinkers fitted again, to spark some effort. Drier also sends out the Hussonet gelding Tipo Tinto, who goes beyond the sprint cut for the first time in his 23 run career. The experiment will either fire or flop, and the gelding was held in high regard earlier in his career.
Warren Kennedy gets an opportunity as Delpech cannot do the weight on Mercurial Brave for Mike De Kock. The promising Jet Master has won two of his six starts, and appears to have serious breathing issues. If that is sorted out, he may well prove a serious proposition with a galloping weight to carry. Garth Puller saddles King Jace, who comes in on bottomweight.
Beaten five lengths last time by Big Bird in the Summer Challenge Series mile final, he won his previous two starts (both over a mile) convincingly and gets the services of Athandiwe Mgudlwa again.
Alec Laird’s Pyrotechnics is another strong galloper, who would have a serious winning chance were it not for his 17 draw. Anton Marcus rides Dylan’s Promise for Charles Laird and owner Alesh Naidoo. She returns from a 15 week break and could find this on the sharp side.
Paul Lafferty’s Parker has not achieved the heights expected of him, and looked dangerous late in the race at Scottsville on Tuesday, before stopping to finish 8,50 lengths off Eton Mess.
While the well drawn Always Al is probably best over 200m shorter, his stablemates Gold Onyx and Roman Wall will go this trip. But neither inspire too much confidence. Gold Onyx is a Gr1 winner, who won a boardroom decision over this course and distance three runs back, after being hampered by the capable One Cool Dude.
The latter was not embarassed in lastSaturday’s Gr2 Premier Trophy behind Master Of My Fate. Gold Onyx returns from a disastrous effort in the Sansui Summer Cup, and may need a run or two to find his feet. He is also awafully drawn here. Roman Wall has not drawn much better, and ran a poor race in the mud and slush at Scottsville on Tuesday. He has been a serious disappointment.
There will be no Christmas handouts in a tough contest, but MJ Odendaal could have a few presents up his sleeve. We are siding with Fourth Estate who has come into his own as a six year old, and he is the selection to beat Top Mark and Mercurial Brave, with King Jace an obvious inclusion for bigger players.