Gamesmanship or simply erring on the side of conservatism? Trainers bemoaning unfavourable barrier draws has been happening since time immemorial.
Are Stuart Pettigrew’s comments that Guineas runner-up Surcharge probably cannot win the SA Classic from his wide gate simply a case of taking some emotional insurance?
In an interview with Andrew Bon this week, the trainer of the top-class son of Gimmethegreenlight hardly exuded the confidence one would anticipate from the camp of the jointly highest-rated 3yo in Saturday’s R2 million Gr1 contest.
And it was all about the Varsfontein Stud bred colt’s rotten luck with barrier draws. On Saturday he comes in at 14 out of 14.
“I nominated Surcharge for the Horse Chestnut after we drew so wide for the Classic. But even there we pulled 8 out of 10. If we had drawn 1 or 2, we would have taken on Legal Eagle and even running second there would have beaten taking our chances here from the widest gate.”
He went on to point out that Surcharge had jumped at 15 from 16 in the Ready To Run Cup, when finishing 5th and 6,25 lengths behind Big Bear.
And he had also scratched him when drawing 14 out of 15 in the Dingaans.
“Then we ran him at 14 out of 16 in the Gauteng Guineas. He ran second to Monks Hood. It is a fact – good horses can’t win from those draws,” he added, confirming that Surcharge was the best he had ever had him and that this race had been on the radar for months.
So Mr Pettigrew and his owner are naturally disappointed.
But we found some disagreement with his assertion about good horses and bad draws – and his contention that his charge probably couldn’t win it from that draw.
“Maybe he is just a conservative cautious guy, but he is overstating the negative in my opinion. Especially at a fair track like Turffontein. Nobody is looking for a bad draw, but good horses – and Surcharge is a top 3yo in my book – can win from anywhere. And in Piere Strydom they have one of the finest riders in the world,“ said a top jockey, who chose to remain nameless in the event that he was seen to be ‘having a go at anybody’.
“The impact of a wide draw all hinges on the pace. To suggest negative impacts measuring up to five lengths is speculative. One never sees a top rider grabbing and yanking a horse from the 14 gate across to the rail. Strydom has done the job 1000’s of times and he will know exactly what to do on Saturday. If Surcharge is good enough he will win.”
A trainer, who also preferred not to be named, said that personalities were interesting when it came to any sport.
“We get the bullish guys who hype and trump. Then we get the negative more cautious guys. I suppose the ideal is somewhere in between. But who is perfect?” he laughed.
He recounted the story of a top jockey who phoned for a ride on a fancied horse.
“He rides him in work on Tuesday. And then says he doesn’t give him a great feel. On Wednesday he phones to tell me he is worried about the pace. By Thursday he has found five horses to beat him. On Saturday he wins by 5 lengths and tells me we have a champion on our hands! That’s why this is such a great game – where does one encounter such great personalities and horses?”
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Aveen Sewpersad, Manager of the National Racing Bureau, confirmed to the Sporting Post that the barrier draw process was entirely random. “The computer doesn’t even know the horse or trainer’s name,” he said.
In the past 12 years, the SA Classic has been won from such gates as 10 (Hunting Tower), 9 (Forest Path), 13 (Pierre Jourdan), 15 (English Garden), 11 (Slumdogmillionaire) and 9 (Heavenly Blue).
So let’s just play the game – may the best horse win.