As usual, there was a certain amount of huffing and puffing about the latest International Jockey Challenge. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I am chuffed to bits at the opportunity to be able to see some of the best riders in the world on my own doorstep, writes ROBYN LOUW.
While I had to follow the first leg on TV, there was some exciting racing and some thrilling results on Friday evening and it was clear that the visitors were here do to business.
Tom Queally drew first blood in race 3, cruising Europa Point home to an easy 3 length victory. South Africa chased hard though and slotted in neatly behind him to mop up the minor placings.
Race 4 was a similar affair, with Richard Hughes steering Masai Warrior to a 1.75 length victory in the Air Mauritius handicap. The visitors added to their points advantage with Jamie Spencer and Olivier Peslier taking the minor placings.
Mike de Kock was the only trainer to offer our visitors any rides outside of the challenge races. While Grant Van Niekerk rode his socks off for a brilliant victory on Smanjemanje, Mike had his confidence richly rewarded when Olivier Peslier got Ilsanpietro home for a solid second in the Gr2 Victory Moon Stakes.
The South Africans rallied and made a spirited comeback in race 7, with Anthony Delpech leading the charge on Kings Entourage and Weichong Marwing and Piere Strydom taking second and third to add some valuable points to the board.
But race 8 saw the visitors land a body blow when captain Richard Hughes led the assault on the results board with the visitors taking the top four slots.
A whirlwind flight later, and the second leg got off to an uncertain beginning in Cape Town. The heavens opened and there was a brief squall of heavy rain. However, as suddenly as it had arrived, it seemed to blow over and the sun shone down brightly as Rouvaun Smit opened proceedings.
The jockeys all congregated behind the lead in area and made their way into the parade ring as they were introduced to the crowd. The jockeys were wearing red Citizen caps which they had all autographed and flung these into the crowd to the delight of the fans. It was great to see so many people on course – the car park felt full and there was a definite air of festivity at Kenilworth.
You could see that the visitors had formed a good team partnership and the Irish lads seemed to share a joke. Olivier Peslier was very dapper and Gallic in his red, white and blue and Andrasch Starke looked cool and collected in the German tricolor.
The South African team looked determined and it was great to have so many of my favourites back again.
The visitors again drew first blood with Olivier Peslier cruising to victory on Mombasa.
I have no idea how he did it, but Weichong Marwing rode Orchard House to perfection in the 6th, seemingly coming out of no-where to grab victory and some solace for the home team.
The Betting World Merchants had a mouth-watering line-up with some serious fire power heading down to the start. However, in an absolutely stupendous display of judgment and timing, Glen Hatt and Shades of Indigo somehow materialized on the line as if out of nowhere to steal (there’s no other way of putting it!) victory from Captain Harry. Vintage ride and huge congratulations to the connections on the classy grey’s victory!
Jamie Spencer seemed to have a little trouble getting down to the start for the 8th and Chrisaldon had a few choice Irish phrases ringing in his ears on the canter down, but it obviously did the trick as he came home lonely 2.5 lengths clear of Piere Strydom on Jet Burst.
Richard Fourie produced another of his beautiful hands and heels rides on Enrani in the 9th and finally it was the last race of the day and our last chance to see our visitors in action.
SA needed a blanket finish, but it was not to be. Jimmy Fortune was a popular winner on Northern Conquest and despite a spirited effort from the Proteas, the visitors had done just enough to clinch the title.
It was a great challenge and I think that the competitive edge was more apparent than ever this year. Many thanks to our fabulous visitors for giving us such a fun competition and thanks to our home team for being fantastic. You guys slog your nuts off up and down the country and it is great to see your hard work recognized and rewarded with your SA colours. I think you are all super stars!
Niel Smith kindly invited me to meet the visitors before they all dispersed again. Unfortunately Richard Hughes and Andrasch Starke had already made their way home, so I missed the opportunity to chat to these two.
I loved the way Tom Queally and Jimmy Fortune were all smiles in the parade ring on Sunday and they proved very similar in person. Tom has a mischievous sense of humour and with his boyish good looks, I can’t believe the mighty Frankel rider is still single!
Jimmy Fortune was as warm and gentle as his lovely wife Jan, and with family connections in Cape Town it would be great to have these two visit us more regularly.
Olivier Peslier and his beautiful wife made a glamorous couple and it turns out that they have interests in trotting horses and own some really beautiful Warmbloods too.
Jamie Spencer had seemed the most serious and focused of all our visitors and I was a little nervous about chatting to him, but he bowled me over with his charm and I am now a paid-up member of the Spencer fan club!
It was a real treat to meet this fantastic collection of riders and I will certainly be following international racing a little more closely now.