Saturday, 8 December 2018. While normal folks were out doing Christmas shopping, the eyes of the racing fraternity were firmly focused on Kenilworth Racecourse.
The nine race card promised a Snowdance spectacular, a fillies sprint extravaganza, the return of our July winner, Horse of the Year, Legal Eagle, fresh from last month’s gutsy win in the Next Turffontein Race Meeting Is Saturday 17 November Pinnacle Stakes (I kid you not) over a 1160m dash no less (how versatile is this horse?!), the exciting young Rainbow Bridge with his unbeaten record and spectacular back story, the ultra consistent Undercover Agent, glamorous Charity Mile winner Hat Puntano and last season’s LQP near miss, Copper Force. And that’s just the horses. Then there was the on form Snaith yard, fresh from their 5 race whitewash – on an ordinary midweek afternoon if you please – Summer Cup duo Sean Tarry and boy wonder Lyle Hewitson, PE challenger Yvette Bremner, visiting trainers, jockeys and even presenters (lovely to have you on track, Paul), the list really was just about endless.
Honestly – in terms of an early Christmas gift, it was all there. Neatly dropped right in our laps with a bright shiny ribbon around it. In terms of a PR coup, you could not have wished for better if you had a fairy godmother, a magic wand and limitless wishes at your disposal.
It was so big, in fact, that even Tellytrack realised and threw together a hasty advert for the Green Point Stakes (yay). It only featured three of the day’s protagonists, but hey. It was something.
The card kicked off at a very user-friendly 13:25. Despite a bit of a ruckus at the start with two runners having to be scratched, once it finally got under way, the opener went the way of Candice Bass-Robinson, Aldo Domeyer and Spirit Of Song after a ding dong battle with Captain Carlos who fell back in the shadow of the post to relinquish second spot to the Vaughan Marshall-trained Sky.
There was barely time to draw breath before the first of the day’s appetisers, the 1400m TAB Telebet 0861 000 822 (yes, really) Pinnacle Stakes. It might as well have been called the ‘Hang Onto Your Hats Folks, You’re In For A Galloping Lesson’ Stakes, because that’s exactly what it was. The good lady Snowdance, having her first outing since that narrow defeat in the Garden Province last July, got out smartly from pole position and simply led the field a merry gallop from gun to tape. Goodtime Gal tried to keep things honest, but frankly, with Snowdance’s ears pricked and her head pointed home, they were all running for second.
Where the best do business
Despite Richard Fourie admitting that he hadn’t had to do much, it was a beautiful ride and in case anyone hasn’t said it lately, this young rider is world class. WORLD CLASS, ladies and gentlemen. And he is at our racetracks every.single.week.
And that label applies just as easily to a laundry list of the other riders – and trainers – on the card (as well as on all the other cards, every day of the week, all across the country). Saturday’s card in fact featured no less than four recent national champion trainers in the Woodruff, Bass, Tarry and Snaith yards. Because the racecourse is where the best come to do business.
But back to the racing
Joburg visitor Craig Zackey tried some cheek in the third and jolly well nearly got away with it on the Kotzen-trained Boundless Deep. It was a competitive 15 horse field, however the canny Richard Fourie had their measure, stealing a march down the rail on Mary Slack’s Chakri and running them down by the best part of half a length to make good on their 22-10 odds.
It was another cavalry charge in the fourth, with 16 maidens facing the starter, but the laurels went to the Brett Crawford-trained Mighty Mike and Corne Orffer, who set sail for home early on the long-striding son of Twice Over. Richard Fourie tried to do the chasing, making up ground hand over fist on Nexus, but it was too little too late and Corne got the podium.
The tried and tested Ramsden-Marcus pairing justified favouritism in the 5th (or the Christmas Is Coming To Kenilworth 15 December MR76 Handicap), with Anton riding a patient race on Montego Bay, gunning down the early leader to win by a comfortable margin.
Lyle Hewitson, who had flown Calla Lily up for second in the 5th, showed the recce had paid off and he made no mistakes in the Gr2 Southern Cross Stakes. Jumping smartly, he kept Yvette Bremner’s raider, Princess Rebel, firmly about her business and they won on the bridle by an easy looking 2.25 lengths, confirming that PE form is quite solid, thank you very much!
The Rumble In The Jungle
Finally, it was on to the much awaited Green Point Stakes (run sans sponsor, sans name panels and sans much in the way of on course ceremony). It was a small field of 6 that cantered down, well, sort of, as the canter past seems increasingly reduced to just a few strides (are we being precious about the grass?), before punters get treated to the sight of hindquarters receding into the distance, but nevertheless, the talent on show was such that by rights the earth should have shook as they went by.
I’d imagine Tellytrack’s server must be close to crashing with the number of times the replay has been watched – and that’s just in my household! – and there are goosebumps each and every time. But seeing it in the flesh was the sort of privilege one waits a lifetime for.
It was, without question, a race for the ages.
As the gates sprang open, Hat Puntano and Copper Force both launched skywards, conceding precious ground. There were no such shenanigans for the gallant little Legal Eagle, who got out smartly and grabbed the lead in his customary no-fuss way with Rainbow Bridge fighting for his head in his slipstream. On opposite sides of the track, Corne Orffer steered Undercover Agent wide while Richard Fourie and and Do It Again grabbed a spot on the paint, with Copper Force slotting in behind them. With Hat Puntano content to book end the field behind Rainbow Bridge, the race was underway in earnest.
Having eased Undercover Agent neatly back across the track, Corne Orffer challenged for the lead at the 1000m mark and half way into the race it was Undercover Agent at the helm, Legal Eagle galloping along well within himself in second with a composed-looking Do It Again in third, followed by the still-frenetic Rainbow Bridge, Copper Force and Hat Puntano.
That was the order as they came off the false rail into the straight. By the 400m marker, the field had broken into two groups with Rainbow Bridge, Copper Force and Hat Puntano at the rear. In the vanguard, Do It Again had crept up the rail to the girth of Undercover Agent while Legal Eagle had flattened his ears and was eating determinedly into the deficit.
By the 200m marker, Legal Eagle had drawn level with Undercover Agent, with Do It Again still holding his position along the rail. Rainbow Bridge had hit full throttle and was roaring down on the front runners.
With 100m to go, Legal Eagle had grabbed the lead, with Undercover Agent hanging tough, Do It Again starting to lose ground on the rail and Rainbow Bridge closing like an express train on their outside.
Undercover Agent grit his teeth and matched Legal Eagle stride for stride. On the inside rail, Richard asked Do It Again for courage and he lifted himself and fought back with the three horses running abreast and looking evenly matched. There are around 13 strides to those 100m. By the 9th stride, Rainbow Bridge was at Legal Eagle’s heels. By 10, he was at his flank. With the 11th he was at Legal Eagle’s girth. At 12, he was at his chinstrap and on 13, the sucker-punch as the four horses hit the line as one.
Hat Puntano chased them home 4 lengths back, floating through the silence as everyone stood slack-jawed at what we’d just seen.
The rising euphoria of being a firsthand witness to one of the greatest turf battles of our time was compressed into a huge painful lump by the knowledge that someone had to lose. Agonising seconds felt like years until THAT photo and the final result.
The Agony And The Ecstasy
The first three had hit the line on almost the same stride phase, but the canny little Legal Eagle had stuck his nose out when it mattered and remained undefeated over a mile. Tough as teak Undercover Agent justified every inch of his 120 rating with a margin 0.05 of a length in second. Do It Again claimed third by 0.10 and the electric Rainbow Bridge fourth by 0.15. 0.05 separating each of the first four over the line. But truth be told, the only losers were those unfortunate souls who weren’t at the track and forfeited the privilege of being able to say ‘I was there’.
Unfortunately a snapshot of the rail ahead of the main race told a sorry tale.
The Beholder’s Share
Art historian Alois Riegl discovered a psychological aspect of art: namely, that art is incomplete without the perceptual and emotional involvement of the viewer, arguing that the act of viewing adds meaning to the work. Later, Ernst Gombrich elaborated further, posing that “the artist gives the beholder ‘more to do,’ draws him into the magic circle of creation and allows him to experience something of the thrill of ‘making’ which had once been the privilege of the artist.” He referred to this as ‘the beholder’s share’.
So if art is not art without the direct involvement of the viewer, is racing still racing without the spectator?
Which brings me back to last Saturday. What a day to be alive. What a day to be at the races!
What a pity so few were.