Geoff Woodruff is the only trainer who will take on the boys with a member of the fairer sex in next Saturday’s J&B Met when Greg Cheyne jumps aboard Mike De Broglio’s Silvano filly Do You Remember. The 2013 Gr1 Woolavington 2000 winner could make Saturday 1 February a memorable one for the ladies.
Woodruff will attempt to emulate the feats of recent years of the likes of Mike Bass (River Jetez) and David Payne, who sent out girls to beat the boys. And it doesn’t always take an Empress Club to win the Met. Payne, who is now based in Australia, was champion trainer of KwaZulu-Natal for many years, and always had his finger on the win recipe for the Cape classics. He proved it once again when sending out the 16/1 shot Imperious Sue to win the 21st running of the J&B Met at Kenilworth in 1998.
A week earlier it had been a 21st celebration of another kind for David Payne when his daughter Tracy celebrated her coming of age. Virtually unconsidered in the betting, the plucky mare made full use of her light weight to dismantle the huge reputations of those she faced and landed Payne a big prize at a time he needed it most. A better showcase for aspirations to become top owner in the country for outspoken part owner Len Salzman could not have been asked for, a huge crowd turning out to blend in the fashion and fun craze that has become the J&B Met.
Brilliant sunshine, tempered by a wind that awaited the horses head-on in the straight, made race conditions perfect and for Salzman, all became complete when three runners bearing his name in the racecard unsaddled in the winner’s enclosure.
An improved tent town section, the traditional side-shows and even a glossy memento J&B magazine celebrating their 21 years with the Met, were further intended to enhance the occasion. However, a huge traffic jam outside the Wetton Road gate entrance prior to the meeting and inadequate control of the crowd on the lawns in front of the grandstand, led to terrible overcrowding and congested traffic.
That said, it did little to detract from a great raceday, although only a small section of the crowd were able to, or were interested in, actively participating in the actual racing. Pre-race hype had let Shah’s Star and North By Northwest to fully justified favouritism but the crowd favourite and previous year’s winner London News made a big comeback at the track to displace North By Northwest as second favourite at 4/1, Shah’s Star firming to 5/2 with North By Northwest at 9/2.
With the favourites all looking the part in the parade ring preliminaries, little attention was paid to the slight Imperious Sue, though the sheen on her coat, hardened muscles and a significant bet move during the week, should have rung some alarm bells in enlightened quarters.
The 15-runner field – Genevieve Michel missed the opportunity to become the first jockette to ride in the Met when King Shore was found to have contracted biliary – got away smartly enough with London News’ colours prominent as Karl Neisius sought to place him up with the pace.
North By Northwest, even smarter away under Pierre Strydom, had gained the lead early from Gold Panner and London News with Imperious Sue perfectly placed at their heels from her gate 1 draw. Next up came Royal Land, Faralmond, Shah’s Star, Super Quality, Exceptional, Western Rocket, Haarlem Park, Two O’Clock Jump and Speedy Dollar with Smart Money and St Lazar bringing up the rear. Gold Panner got the lead as he passed the 1600m mark from London News, looking settled on the bit to the satisfaction of those that know him.
Faralmond had also moved up into the firing line to join Imperious Sue as they started straightening up for home, while Speedy Dollar was asked to get closer wide out as the pace had been reduced to something of a crawl.
In the home straight the action was still a bit lethargic as Faralmond and London News aroused a roar of approval as they emerged at the front of the pack wearing the same silks. However, North By Northwest was full of running, making a strong move toward the front while Imperious Sue took a less conspicuous route toward the inside. Super Quality was also perfectly poised to challenge but was unable to produce the necessary when given the office. Sent about his business, North By Northwest worked his way clear of London News, who started showing signs of distress 200m out
while Fara-lmond also failed to maintain position, starting to hang badly as he was placed under pressure by Mark Khan. Shah’s Star, out of his ground at the top of the straight, failed to find the toe needed to take him up to the action, his stamina only allowing him to start cutting down the leaders from about 200m out while Faralmond also failed to maintain position, starting to hang badly as she was placed under pressure by Mark Khan. Shah’s Star, out of his ground at the top of the straight, failed to find the toe needed to take him up to the action, his stamina only allowing him to start cutting down the leaders from about 200m out, which was far too late.
Out front North By Northwest was still going like the clappers but Anthony Delpech on Imperious Sue had ridden a ruthlessly precise tactical race, unleashing his mount with a devastating late burst. The thrust took them alongside the leader but Delpech had to work hard to keep her head in front as North By Northwest responded, coming back at her as the line approached.
Inching back into contention North By Northwest thrust his head forward at the line, giving Imperious Sue supporters a rare moment as he almost did enough to retrieve the situation. However, the photo-finish proved that the mare had clinched it by a short-head… and deservedly so.
David Payne, not one to mince words, was not complimentary about the opposition afterwards. “I told everyone that this year’s Met was a bad race,” he said. “The top horse wasn’t firing and at the weights, my mare had to have a big chance.” The story was readily confirmed by Farrell Ratner, who said it was Payne’s confidence that inspired them to take a decent bet on Imperious Sue.
Payne had also raised eyebrows when Fearless Streaker won this race in 1989, the gelding ironically also being taken over by Payne from another stable. Imperious Sue had been with Gary Alexander until a tiff between Salzman and the stable caused them to part ways. Third went to the Mike de Kock runner Smart Money, 1,5 lengths further back. The Gauteng runner came on strongly from the tail of the field as did Shah’s Star, who ate up ground late to get within a head of the third and slip past London News and Super Quality.
Jeff Lloyd was furious, clearly no fan of the notorious Cape crawl. “They didn’t even go a racing pace,” he fumed. “I could have got off and walked faster. We never got into the race.” The time for the Met confirmed Lloyd’s on-the-spot assessment as Imperious Sue, carrying 51,5kg, clocked 2:5,10 seconds for the 2000m trip, whereas Mountain Lion, one race earlier and carrying the same weight in a B division, registered a time 0,3 seconds faster. That said, full credit to Delpech for the manner in which he had interpreted the race pattern, and applied a winning formula to it.
Bred by Graham Beck’s Maine Chance Farms stud, Imperious Sue was originally owned in partnership by Beck and Ratner, but the former sold his share to Salzman and later Aldridge “bought in”. Those connected with the mare had been stalwart owners countrywide, their owning careers being peppered with good horses and reciprocative results. Their win in the J&B Met was the cherry on the top.