The national attention during this quiet period on the turf remains firmly focussed on the supreme sand celebrations down Vereeniging way. A high quality field goes to post for Thursday’s Vaal Conditions Plate, where trainer Mike Azzie saddles an army. The top conditioner sends out an extraordinary five of the eight runners.
The sand season climax of the Emerald Cup is under a month down the road and competition is hotting up for the limited berths available to make a bid for Africa’s richest sand prize. While this event is run over 1800m, there may well be a few aspiring diamond diggers amongst the bunch that lines up. After all, the sand surface often sees the longer distance types getting lucky over slightly shorter, given the right conditions.
The charismatic ‘Azz Man’ has few peers when it comes to getting horses fit and ready to win on the sand and he will hold high hopes of banking the lion’s share on Thursday. Three of his five are sired by Fort Wood, and they are capable of reversing the form with each other, although Pylon and Emperor Augustus stand out.
The smart Fort Wood gelding Pylon probably heads the Azzie quintet and this eight time winner is effective on both surfaces. Originally christened Pylon by the evergreen recent Equus racing media award winner Jimmy Lithgow, the 5yo has changed hands and now runs in the orange and black Van Vuuren silks. He formerly campaigned in the yellow and black Bridget Oppenheimer silks.
Pylon is a multiple course and distance winner who is in the prime of his racing life. He won his last start in solid and convincing style beating Mr Tobin a length and had his stablemate Magic Smoke seven lengths behind him. The mare meets Pylon on 5,5kgs better terms here, but Pylon may be the better over the extra 200m and holds her on some of his previous outings.
Magic Smoke gave the smart Uncle Tommy (check his run in Saturday’s August Stakes) weight and a beating over the mile at this track in June. That gives her a serious chance here
The ten time winner Eastern Cobbler carries a hefty 63kg topweight and has won two of his last three starts, all on the turf. He looks held by both Magic Smoke and Jet Jamboree on his last sand start and has a mountain to climb at the weights. He has done very well on grass recently and is a fit horse ridden by a world class jockey.
Interestingly Robbie Fradd, like colleague Gavin Lerena, has ridden all of the five Azzie runners at some time or another in races and the pre race instructions would make for interesting reading.
Eugenes was scheduled to run on Saturday and while a game and able sort, appears better over slightly shorter. He ran a solid second to Storm Surf at his last start prior to Saturday, and is always capable of earning. The smart stakes placed Emperor Augustus has his second try at the sand. The son of Kahal has won 3 of his 18 starts, but is infinitely better than the cold stats may suggest as he has had a tough feature punctuated campaign.
He finished second behind the capable New York at his solitary sand outing and was not disgraced when running on strongly behind Distinguished in the Listed Darley Arabian on Super Saturday. He finished only 2,10 lengths back in fifth there and if reproducing that kind of run, could well be the dark horse in the race.
Dominic Zaki and Piere Strydom team up with the smart four time winning Jet Master entire, Jet Jamboree. The six year old was not perservered with by jockey MJ Byleveld at his last start, when finishing a fair five lengths behind Jackson in the Gr1 Champions Cup at Greyville on Super Saturday.
He is a classy sort and has earned place money at both of his sand outings. In his last dip on the sand he went fourth to Magic Smoke, but had Eastern Cobbler some 3,75 lengths adrift. Jet Jamboree now enjoys an extraordinary 11,5kg turnaround at the weights and Eastern Cobbler may well wish that he had stuck to the green stuff!
Stephen Moffatt is the only other trainer that turns up to take on the Azzie Army. He sends out the former Adam Kethro trained Spectrum gelding Spectroscope, who is a course and distance winner who jumps from the best draw. While a revitalised fellow on sand, Spectroscope may find himself up against it when taking on this class and needs to prove that he is up to the challenge.
Moffatt also saddles the struggling Nysaean gelding Ushkadel, who plodded last time when fourth to Castle Rock in a lowly rated handicap at Flamingo Park. While carrying bottom-weight, he looks highly unlikely to trouble the proven class.
The competitive Mr Mike Azzie will not want to hear about losing this race. He certainly provides punters with a mathematical advantage in terms of a Pick Six banker. That is if we decide it makes sense to take on Piere Strydom and Jet Jamboree. Pylon looks the right one and we are suggesting he will be good enough to win.