L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate Festival (in Title Case!) 2019. Where to begin?
Firstly, as I get so much stick for being mean to sponsors, allow me to start by saying that L’Ormarins have been quite the most incredible gift to Cape racing. Since taking over the sponsorship, they have worked their socks off to put both the race and the race day firmly on the map and to ensure that each and every year offers something different and special ensuring one always arrives with an air of expectation.
I’d popped in last Wednesday to find the racecourse buzzing with activity and Mrs Rupert personally in attendance to oversee the finishing touches.
Dressed to Impress
It really warms the heart to see our grand old lady all dressed up and looking beautiful. The gardens and concourse were a joy with a small forest of live trees bussed in to fill the lawns and blue and white agapanthus adorning every nook and cranny. The wonderful Queen’s Plate wall of fame was expanded by another wall panel of winning jockey silks and there were butterflies and bird feeders and hanging baskets and prettiness everywhere you looked.
Things kicked off with the Friday Garden Party (which has also evolved sufficiently to be a Title Case letter day) and goes from strength to strength. While there were a few folks of the opinion that the spectator support wasn’t all that strong, a timeous chat with the 3A boys, loyal supporters of the festival since inception, served as a reminder of just how far things have come in three short years.
Lots of Favourites
It was a treat to be invited to the Cape of Good Hope luncheon, served in the first floor RA room. The room was beautifully dressed and the freeform seating encouraged sharing as well as ease of moving around the room to chat. I had a marvellous afternoon getting reacquainted with Hans Stegeman (the man famously responsible for breeding the wonderful Pas de Quoi) and I finally got to apologise for nearly knocking him off his horse at a hunt many moons ago. Hans and his lovely wife Judy proved wonderful lunch companions – entertaining us with the story of naming Pas de Quoi and to cement the friendship, Hans graciously professed to having no recollection of our riding misadventure. But there were plenty of favourites from near and far and much fun was had.
The lunch was generous and there were practical gifts of Panama hats to ward off the sun as well as thoughtful keepsakes to tuck away and take home to relive the experience.
I have said it before, but I LOVE the Friday card. The short, 8 race format is the Goldilocks of race cards – not too long, not too short, not too serious, just perfect.
Friday At The Races
Dean Kannemeyer surprised with a juvenile winner in the first, Dennis Drier saddled the beautiful Cabo Da Cruz to victory in the second and how about Ozzie Noach and Glen Puller sneaking onto the podium with a lovely ride in the 2500m Gold Standard Maiden Plate. Brett Crawford and Corne Orffer are deadly on the big days and dished up a double with Indi Anna and Charles, with Brett back on the podium for the Listed Ardmore Jamaica Handicap – this time courtesy of Sean Veale – on the lovely Drakenstein Stud owned Princess Irene, one of my pre-season favourites.
There were best dressed and best hat competitions on Friday, but I lost my heart to the exquisite Ardmore day sheet presented to Princess Irene for her Jamaica efforts. I chanced my arm in case the Princess had a sufficiently stocked wardrobe, but Ross Fuller held firm that the blanket was going home with them *sigh*
Blue dresses and blue ankles
The only, tiniest gripe after a wonderful day was the photographer’s box. While I’m terrifically grateful for a dedicated space, some kind of gate or sensible access might expedite matters somewhat. As it happened, access was either via the winner’s enclosure – necessitating a trudge all the way up and through the gate and then back down the track (first world problems, I know, I know) – or simply up and over the fence, prompting another dilemma (wear a dress, they said. It will be fun, they said. Hmm). And having omitted to reconnoitre the territory on the other side of the fence, I landed on a wooden strut and now have a blue ankle to match my dress for my trouble. At least I managed to get the picture!
Unlike me, Mrs Rupert was kept on her feet as Clouds Unfold and Juniper Spring battled it out for the Gr2 Cartier Sceptre Stakes, but victory went the way of the jubilant Aldo Domeyer and the lovely ‘Clouds’, giving Drakenstein a 1-2 as well as a fitting double on the afternoon. Visiting rider, JP van der Merwe brought proceedings to a close on the Corne Spies-trained Steffi’s Graft and all too soon we found ourselves in the car park and on our way home.
Before getting onto the racing, I have to dish out a huge compliment to the L’Ormarins team for layout. While it changes every year, I thought this year’s arrangement of having all the social areas set out to the front left of the grandstand and along the rail was a capital idea. Spectators seemed to enjoy having everything at their fingertips (and I’m told that the proximity to the racing action helped raise turnover) and with enterprising ideas such as the really fabulous food hall set up under the grandstand, the crowds were cleverly dispersed, leaving the course feeling roomy and free flowing. So much so, that there seemed no queue for anything – other than the LQP installation for selfie hunters!
There were no side-shows, no messy over the top presentations or unnecessary speeches from the establishment, just clean, focused sport which allowed our stars to shine. What a treat to have such a fantastic card and (personal highlight), name panels for our deserving feature runners – yay!
Without doing anyone a disservice, it really was the features we were all there to see. Joey Ramsden’s Twist Of Fate produced a dominant display in the BMW Politician Stakes. Doublemint and Kampala Campari dished up a thriller in the Glorious Goodwood Peninsula Handicap and then it was down to serious business.
Lady In Black put up a heroic performance against 2018 Horse of the Year in the Paddock Stakes, but victory went the way of Richard Fourie, Snaith Racing and Oh Susanna in her super fast blue shoes (lovely touch, Snaith Racing and well done to super farrier Robbie Miller!). On a somewhat less happy note, Safe Harbour seemed to pull up a bit sore, so thanks to Ryan Munger for hopping off and getting her help so quickly – this is why you guys are such champions.
Big Race Conundrum
The big races and the big horses are the reason we go racing. However, as there can only be one winner, it also poses a bit of a dilemma, particularly when you are faced with such an exciting field. And of course there was an extra bit of anxiety for dual Horse of the Year, Legal Eagle, unbeaten over a mile and bidding for Pocket Power’s record of four in a row. And what of last season’s Champion 2yo colt and Cape Guineas sensation Soqrat? And the much vaunted Rainbow Bridge? And the tough as nails Undercover Agent?
Although we didn’t get the repeat of that fabulous Green Point finish many had hoped for, the script we were dished out was possibly even more satisfying. Soqrat put up a heck of a fight, but 2018 July winner and Champion 3yo Colt Do It Again wiped the floor with the lot of them.
Work on a horse and that horse gets better. Work on yourself and all your horses get better
Gr1 success is a nebulous thing. I once spoke to a trainer who said that you may believe in your methodology, but it’s not until you get that first Gr1 that you truly know you are on the right track. This is hardly Snaith Racing’s first rodeo, but they are really hitting their straps and it shows.
You can’t do it without the horseflesh, so huge kudos must go to Northfields Stud Pty Ltd for producing what seems to be one of the best horses we’ve seen in some time and of course to Richard Fourie. It was just a few short weeks ago that I said this young man is world class and didn’t he prove it again on Saturday? And how wonderful to see him acknowledged by his fellow riders in the jockey room afterwards with a champagne reception. It’s these little moments that make our sport great.
It would be remiss not to pay tribute to Soqrat who earned tremendous honour in defeat – what a performance from the 3 year old and an incredibly cool ride from Randall Simons. We are so fortunate to have our visitors add so much colour to the Cape Summer Season, despite the schizophrenic programming and increasingly slim pickings.
Of course there was a lot of heartache for the gallant Legal Eagle – one never wants to see a good horse beaten, particularly one who has given as much as he has – but it did serve to illustrate just how remarkable Pocket Power’s achievement really was. Records are hard to set and they are harder to break – as they should be. So amid the sadness, was also a sense of satisfaction that the sparky bay enjoying his well-earned retirement out at Hemel ‘n Aarde stud could tuck into his dinner content in the knowledge that his record will stand for years to come.
No Drama, Just Sport
I was musing how to sum up the day when my companion did it for me. “There’s been no drama,” she mused. And she was right. Everything ran smoothly. Everything was remarkably easy and comfortable and wonderful. And not being worried or irritated by small details left one entirely free to concentrate on the racing – the thing we were all there for in the first place. It’s been such a long time since I’ve experienced that, I’d almost forgotten what it feels like. So my biggest, best and shiniest thanks go to Mrs Rupert and her wonderful team of shoemaker’s elves who put in a truly herculean effort (and make it look effortless) to ensure that every tiny detail was taken care of so that the rest of us could have a wonderful day’s racing.
If someone could just arrange a gate to the photographer’s box for the Met, that would be great. Dankie by voorbaat!