Deo Juvente

Road To The LQP

Deo Juvente as a yearling

They say it’s better to be lucky than good, but a little bit of both seems to be the best recipe.

An ‘LBJ’ is the rather unflattering moniker for a nondescript, plain horse – ‘little brown job’.  Deo Juvente may not be little, but with no distinguishing white markings, he is a relatively plain brown horse.  A ‘BBJ’ if you will.  On 6 May 2017, the Geoff Woodruff-trained BBJ pulled off the seemingly impossible when he beat Legal Eagle and Nother Russia in a titanic three-way struggle in the Gr1 Premier’s Champions Challenge, made all the more impressive after he lost a good few lengths at the start.

Behind every great result, is a great story and Deo’s is perhaps one of my favourites – not simply because he is a good horse, but because his story is firmly rooted in friendship, has delivered some very special moments to some very special people and because the cocktail is liberally coloured by the hand of chance.

Born From A Friendship

Robin Bruss (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Robin Bruss (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

To really appreciate the Deo Juvente story, one has to cast your mind back a good few years to the era of Sydney Press, Edgars, Northfields and Coromandel Stud.  Young bloodstock agent Robin Bruss was enlisted to advise Press on his bloodstock affairs and help set up Coromandel Stud.  Robin advised on the purchase of Tecla Bluff, the sensational Millard-trained filly who made a clean sweep of the Republic Day Handicap, the Rothmans July and the Clairwood Winter Handicap to be named Horse of the Year in 1983.  Press decided that his champion filly needed a champion stallion and set Robin the task of finding a suitable mate.  Robin found Northfields.

When Press’ empire fell apart, he made Robin a parting gift representing the best of the Coromandel Farm breeding – the only daughter of Northfields and the great mare Tecla Bluff – Teclafields.  Unfortunately Teclafields only won a single race in her career.  However, she proved her worth in the paddock, producing 10 foals, of which 9 were winners and three won at Gr1 level.  Circle Of Life won the Garden Province Stakes and finished 3rd in the July, going on to be named Equus Champion Older Female for 1998 and 1999; African Lion won the Champions Cup; and Zebra Crossing, trained by Robin’s brother Neil, won the J&B Met.

Name

Monaco Coat of Arms

Monaco Coat of Arms

Robin raced Circle Of Life in partnership with Mike Wittstock.  “We had a long-standing friendship going back to Zim days.  Mike and I raced Circle Of Life together as a 2 and 3yo and I later bought him out.  Then Charlene became Princess of Monaco.  The Monaco coat of arms bears the words ‘Deo Juvante’ which means ‘with God’s help’.  At the wedding, Mike had to make a speech and at the end, he raised his glass and said ‘Deo Juvante’ which got him a huge cheer.  When she had the colt by Trippi, Mike came to the farm and had photos taken with the foal at foot.  I named him Deo Juvente in the hope that someone from Monaco might buy him,” admits Robin.

“I was working for CTS at the time and Deo Juvente was bred on a foal share, whereby Klawervlei provided a service and I provided a mare.  He went through the sales ring at the 2013 National Yearling Sale and Markus Jooste bought me out.  I went round to the back, hoping to buy the horse, and as I started to bid, I saw Joey Ramsden standing three steps away and realised he was bidding against me on instruction from Markus.  As you can imagine, I got run over quite quickly.  The horse sold for R500k,” he remembers ruefully.

Geoff Woodruff (credit: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Geoff Woodruff – sometimes the horse finds you (credit: hamishNIVENPhotography)

However, the story doesn’t end there.  From the sales, Deo Juvente was sent to a spelling farm.  When he was ready to go into training, thanks to an administrative muddle, instead of being sent to Cape Town, he ended up on a float to Randjesfontein.  Rather than upset the apple cart, it was decided to leave the horse where he was, which is how he came to be in the care of Geoff Woodruff.

There is a wonderful quote by Anthony Powell which reads “His face bore that look of sadness with which you associate people accustomed throughout their lives to the boundless unreliability of horses”.  Some might argue that the horses are fine, it’s usually people who turn out to be unreliable, but that’s a discussion for another day.  If it is possible for that particular brand of sadness to be transferred into speech, then Joey’s voice carried its stamp when I rang up to ask about the story.  “It was quite a funny year.  I bought a Summer Cup winner (Deo Juvente went down a short head to stable mate Master Sabina), a July winner (The Conglomerate) and a Met winner (Whisky Baron).”  Did he remember why he liked him as a yearling?  “I just liked him as an individual.  He didn’t look his best at the time and he didn’t go for a lot of money, but he was one of my picks of the sale.  And I never got to train him.  But there you go.”

As they say, you might not always get the horse you want, but you do get the horse you need and the racing gods decreed that Geoff Woodruff needed Deo Juvente.

A Horse For The Big Occasions

Deo Juvente wins the Victory Moon Stakes

Deo Juvente gives Callan Murray his first Gr2 win

‘Deo’ didn’t see a racecourse until he turned three, but won easily on debut over 1400m at Turffontein on 3 January 2015 with Gavin Lerena in the saddle.  He would go on to rack up 3 wins and 3 places from 7 starts in his sophomore season.  As a 4yo, he delivered several highlights, the first being gifting up-and-coming young rider Callan Murray with his first Gr2 success in the 2015 Victory Moon Stakes.  A little under 2 weeks later, he fought stablemate Master Sabina all the way to the line in the 2015 Summer Cup for a short head second.

He joined the Woodruff string for the Cape summer season and opened his campaign in the Peninsula Handicap on L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate day, coming from the back of the field to finish a brilliant third to Light The Lights from a wide draw.  A few days later, rolling in the sand after work, he cut his leg open on a broken bottle.  “It was about a 6 inch cut and it took a long time to heal, because it was on the loose skin on his stifle, so the stitches kept pulling out,” explains Geoff.

After a six month break, he resurfaced in the Gr3 Jubilee Handicap at Turffontein on 12 June and cantered down favourite, but was pulled out of the race by Piere Strydom.  Despite the team’s best efforts to prove his well-being, Deo was dismissed by the Vodacom Durban July panel and did not make the cut.

5yo Career

Deo Juvente produces the goods

After another lengthy break, Deo started his 5yo season with the Gr2 Joburg Spring challenge in October, finishing 5 lengths off Kangaroo Jack.  In November, he was just over half a length third to New Predator in the Charity Mile before a mid-field effort in the 2016 Summer Cup.  He went down half a length to Romany Prince in the 2017 Gr2 London News Stakes in mid-January and then put up a courageous run in the Colorado King Stakes in March, finishing ¼ length second to Brazuca after casting a shoe and being carried in during the running.  Geoff reunited Deo with his Victory Moon Stakes friend, Callan Murray for an 1800m Pinnacle Stakes at Turffontein in mid-April and then came that fantastic run in the Champion Stakes on 6 May.  It was an incredibly emotional day for the team.  Deo book-ended Callan’s hattrick of Gr1 wins for the day and Geoff dedicated the win to his mother who had passed away peacefully the previous evening.  Somewhat ironically, shortly afterwards, Gold Circle rated him top of their July log for 2017.

Long break

However, Deo has not been seen on a racecourse since.  Geoff explains, “It was a great pity.  He was due to run in the Champion Stakes in Durban and he’d been working up a storm.  Then his back legs stacked and he got one of those little viruses that goes around and that was that.  We were very disappointed to scratch there – we felt he was going to run a good one.”

They decided to skip this year’s Summer Cup thanks to the handicapper, who pushed up his rating following his Champion Stakes win.  “They made him a 115, but didn’t do much to Nother Russia, who was another short head away in third,” he notes.  “As Derek Brugman rightly said, he could have run in the Summer Cup and would probably have produced a balanced third or fourth, but it doesn’t help and you tire him and possibly take the edge off for bigger things, so our hands were really tied by the handicappers.  I feel it’s a pity, because they take so much of the gloss off the big races because horses can’t be competitive.  If you’ve got a nice handicapper of about 106 and he dares get within a few lengths of something that’s within 120 for argument’s sake, handicappers take an unrealistic view.  They don’t take the pace or size of field into account.  Until it’s addressed, we’re going to get 7 or 8 horses in a WFA Gr1.  You can argue with the handicappers, but it doesn’t seem to get you anywhere and at the end of the day we all get penalised.  Sponsors and the public are the main losers here.”

Cape season

So Deo stayed in his box and the team have set their sights on the Met.  They’ve used the opportunity to come to Cape Town in late November.  “He has settled in nicely,” reports Geoff.  “What I wanted to do was get all the bugs and things through his system, build up his immunity to whatever you’ve got going on down there and make him a Cape horse for now.”  Daughter Lucinda has been looking after him at their Milnerton satellite and he’s reportedly settling in well.

Asked what he’s like to work with, Geoff says, “He’s one of those ‘stop it, no, I like it,’ types.  He’ll lay his ears back and snap his teeth at you, but when you go to make a fuss, his ears come forward and he’s all soppy.  He’s a big, long, heavy horse and handsome in a way that only a mother can love,” he chuckles.  “He’s a real war horse.  Because he’s long backed, he hasn’t got a great action until he’s galloping – so it’s a nightmare to watch him cantering – he looks like a centipede coming towards you, but funnily enough, he’s been pretty sound.”

Deo has a Kenilworth grass gallop under the belt and will be running in the Premier Trophy on 16 December.  “We’d like to try and keep him at WFA, simply because you can’t give away chunks of weight everywhere.  We’ll target the Premier Trophy, the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate and the Met – that’s our three race target for Cape Town.”

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