Gr2 Emerald Cup over 1450m at Vaal (sand) on Saturday
Since it’s inception in 2004, Africa’s richest race on sand, the Gr2 Emerald Cup, has grown enormously in stature. A full field of fourteen are sure to go to post this time around and with all racing off their true mark in the handicap, it looks to be a very competitive contest, writes Steve Furnish.
After winning the Gr3 August Stakes over 1200m in his first try on the surface, and then being allotted a very nice draw here, the Kahal colt The Mouseketeer was priced up as the favourite when the betting opened.
One of two runners from the in form stable of Sean Tarry, The Mouseketeer has come to hand nicely in recent months, winning three of his last four starts. Also favourably drawn in the August Stakes, The Mouseketeer raced up with the speed throughout and kept on determinedly down the long straight to beat his faster finishing stable companion Across The Ice. A winner of four from eleven on turf, The Mouseketeer has gained two of his successes over 1600m so he is sure to see out today’s trip. He’s clearly still improving and on that alone he has to be respected.
Across The Ice
Also representing the stable of Sean Tarry in this race is the 5yo Across The Ice. This son of Western Winter looked to be a very good sort in the making when cruising in by six on debut way back in 2009. His form has been a little in and out since then, but as with The Mouseketeer, he has come to hand nicely. He won well when out at the weights in a pinnacle event over 1400m on turf in July and he showed that he is just as effective on today’s surface when only going down by a neck at levels to stable companion The Mouseketeer last time out. They meet each other on the same terms here, but whereas The Mouseketeer has another plum draw, Across The Ice is drawn very wide.
The horse with the highest merit rating in the race is Scott Kenny’s Sayadaw. A 7yo son of Mogok, Sayadaw has won seven of his seventeen outings on the sand and although most have been achieved over further, he has twice been successful over today’s trip. Usually one to run on strongly from the rear, Sayadaw commands a very powerful turn of foot and has caught the eye finishing best of all on several occasions. Indeed, he did just that when only failing to get up by the narrowest of margins in a conditions event over today’s course and distance last time out. Sayadaw has his third run after a rest here and has clearly been targeted at this race.
The best of globe trotter Mike De Kock’s two runners on the day could well be Storm Crossing. One of two runners sired by Western Winter in the field, Storm Crossing has also won seven times on the sand. He too is often seen running on from off the pace and he did finish well when third in this race last season. Storm Crossing has risen some eight points in the handicap since that effort, but whereas he was drawn very wide last season, he is drawn well here. He will have needed his latest outing when returning from a break and if now at his best should be involved again.
Stable Companion Burmese Cat had a number of today’s runners behind him when winning the listed Highveld Sand Challenge in just his second career start on the surface over 1600m here in April, and at that time it looked as if he would be a force to be reckoned with here. His two subsequent efforts on the sand have been disappointing in comparison, but they did come either side of a three month break. Anthony Delpech takes the ride here and having drawn well, he should be thereabouts if at his best.
Robbie Sage’s charge showed tremendous improvement at this stage of the season last year and it was no surprise when he went on to win this race. He was then well beaten in his next three starts (all on turf ) and wasn’t seen out again on sand until finishing sixth to surprise winner Bouquet-Garni in a pinnacle event over today’s trip in August. He was clearly being prepared for today’s race when given a sprint up in the August Stakes last time out, and now having his third run after the rest he should be cherry ripe. Expect a bold effort.
As well as Iron Curtain, trainer Robbie Sage is also represented by the 4yo Art Wish. One of four runners in the field owned by the Queen Mother of South African horse racing Mrs B D Oppenheimer, this son of Strike Smartly has taken to the sand like a duck to water. Indeed, he’s won four from six on the surface and in recent months has been going from strength to strength. He’s at the top of his game right now and interestingly, Gunter Wrogemann who rode his stable companion Iron Curtain to victory in last years event, will be on board.
One of just two females in the race, the Fort Wood mare Queen’s Bay has done well on sand, winning three of her six starts. She’s mainly been campaigned on turf over the past twelve months and is without a win on either surface now since last October. A place would not be out of the question if finding her best form, but having been reported as lame three runs back, and then not striding out in her most recent start, others are preferred.
If getting a run then, the best of the two Mike Azzie inmates on the day could be the first reserve Lochlorien. A powerful front runner on his day, the Var gelding Lochlorien has won twice over today’s trip and he has drawn very nicely in pole position here. He showed his well being in no uncertain terms when only run out of it late by the July runner up Pierre Jourdan over today’s distance on turf just last week, and it is worth noting that less than a year ago he was rated six points higher on sand than he is today.
The biggest coupling in the field is that of Roy Magner who saddles all of Eastern Cobbler, Mina Salaam and Phunyuka.
The Al Mufti gelding Eastern Cobbler came into this race on the back of two wins last season and having been drawn wide at twelve ran a fair seventh. He’s been mainly campaigned on turf where he is not so effective since then, but he has come to hand very nicely since reverting to the sand in April. Indeed, when winning his latest outing over 1600m here in July, he impressed. He is not without a chance on that latest effort, but he doesn’t have the best of the draw again here, and he is racing off a mark three points higher than that of last season.
The Medaglia D’oro filly Mina Salaam has won two from five on sand and although those successes were both gained over shorter, she has shown in no uncertain terms when winning three feature events over further in Zimbabwe recently that the distance will not be an issue. She showed her well being when fourth against her own sex in the non black type Sandy Beach Stakes last month, but drawn very wide here against the best of the boys on the surface, she does look to have a stiff task here.
The second reserve runner Phunyuka is a previous winner of this race. Since running on stoutly to land this event in 2009 though, he has only found the winners enclosure once, and that was some seventeen starts back. He did show signs of life when running on to take third 5,75 lengths off Bouquet-Garni in his penultimate outing, but that was in a pinnacle event where he was favourably treated at the weights.
After going some thirteen outings without finding the winner’s enclosure, Leon Erasmus’ charge has come to hand very nicely in recent months, winning three of his last six starts. He was running on strongly from a wide draw when only beaten two lengths by Art Wish three runs back and he was only a length and three quarters behind The Mouseketeer when third in the August Stakes last time out. He meets The Mouseketeer on 1kg better terms here, but he is drawn widest of all and that is a big disadvantage over today’s course and distance.
Racing over a trip thought to be short of his best, the former Gauteng Derby winner Bouquet-Garni caused a major upset when beating a number of his rivals here in a pinnacle event over today’s course and distance in his first try on sand in August. Gavin Van Zyl’s charge was probably being given a sprint up when drawn wide over 1200m in the August Stakes last time out. He was reported as lame in that event though, and drawn very wide here one is not quite sure what to expect.
The former Eastern Cape campaigner Comedy Caravan has done well since being switched to sand racing at Flamingo Park,winning five times. He’s as consistent as they come and setting off from gate eight here is sure to give of his best. His latest four successes have all been gained in pinnacle events at that centre though, and racing off a 99 in stronger company here, he clearly has no easy task.
A winner of this race way back in 2008, St John Gray’s charge, amazingly, has failed to find the winner’s enclosure in 26 starts since. He does on occasions run some very good races though, and he was flying at the finish when only beaten a neck in this race last year. The wide draw is not such a disadvantage for Alimony as he normally comes from the rear. He is nine years old now though and his two most recent runs have been well below par.
About The Pace
They usually set off at a good clip over today’s course and distance and with a full field of fourteen going to post for this prestigious event, that looks sure to be the case again here. With no big guns from the turf trying their luck this time around, it could well be the usual suspects that fight out the finish. From a good draw The Mouseketeer looks sure to be right there when the race begins in earnest and if getting a run Lochlorien will be with him. Storm Crossing and the progressive Art Wish have drawn well and both can be expected to fight it out. The one I like best on the day though is the flying Sayadaw.