Great races are hardly defined by field size. The initial reaction to the nine horse field for Saturday’s R1 million Gr1 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate obviously failed to understand the genuine depth of quality and competitive needle that lurks beneath the elegant blanket of white and blue. The 2015 renewal of SA’s premier weight-for-age mile has all the makings of one of the great fights for supremacy in a long history.
Nine horses. That’s disappointing, some will say. Yes, maybe from a betting turnover viewpoint – but even that is balanced by the creation of feverish interest and debate when great horses clash.
And in this fiercely competitive culture of ours, the money aside, North wants to beat South, and vice-versa.
No less than Snaith wants to give Woodruff a proverbial hiding and show his neighbour Brett Crawford that he is the undisputed king of the Cape castle.
And by mentioning those particular names, we are also potentially falling into the trap of suggesting this is a two or three horse race at best. The smaller the field, the bigger the you-know-what. So they say.
It may not be a hundred percent valid comparison, but consider for a moment what happened to the ‘unbeatable’ Viva La Var in the five-horse African Holly Handicap at Scottsville on Sunday .
Current J&B Met favourite Legislate looks to be one of the most exciting horses we have seen in many years.
He returned after a four month break following his controversial July victory and slammed his field in the WFA Green Point Stakes.
He goes for six in a row on Saturday and racing in the blue and white of the day’s sponsors, there looks little to stop this express train.
But Geoff Woodruff and Piere Strydom may think otherwise.
Triple Crown champion and recent Sansui Summer Cup hero Louis The King has his first run in the Cape and gets put to the away test again. A test, some will suggest, he failed previously when travelling to Durban and failing in the July after a decent Daily News 2000 third place.
This will be Louis The King’s first race on a left-handed turn , but the long summer straight will give him plenty of time to unwind and deliver the blow.
He will have plenty of public support, but will that be enough and the question is – can be really give Legislate cheek on home turf?
Brett Crawford saddles the 2014 Champions Cup winner Futura, whose prep went awry following his being forced to skip last Saturday’s Diadem Stakes as a result of coughing.
The Diadem was meant to be a prep gallop for Saturday’s feature and that was subsequently substituted with a grass gallop. Would it have served the purpose to the same extent and has the coughing set Futura back?
Time will tell.
Geoff Woodruff also saddles the 5yo Silvano gelding Tellina who ran 11,50 lengths behind Bezanova in the Charity Mile in his only start this season.
Tellina would have a place squeak on his better early 4yo form – even though he strikes us as a likely travelling companion and unlikely pacemaker at best.
The second of the Snaith runners is the ‘miracle horse’, Jet Explorer.
The gelding suffered a terrible fall in the Rising Sun Gr1 Gold Challenge in June, where he fractured his jaw, but has been edging his way back to form.
In his third run back from his injury enforced break, he stayed on well from some way back to get within a half length of the good mare Jet Aglow in the Listed Jet Master Stakes.
Mike Bass saddles a duo of Ashton Park and the Trippi gelding Paterfamilias.
If his merit rating is to be taken seriously, then Ashton Park has come on leaps and bounds this season.
He started the term on a 95 four runs back and now runs off an MR of 108.
He ran an eyecatching, albeit well-beaten second behind Legislate in the Green Point Stakes and was then a touch unlucky when finishing strongly after encountering traffic problems in the Gr2 Diadem Stakes when only 3,60 lengths behind Captain Of All.
The second the Bass runners is the Trippi gelding Paterfamilias, who produced a quiet return run in the Premier Trophy when 4,50 lengths behind Dynamic.
That was his first run in a year after running third in the same event behind Master Of My Fate in 2013.
He looks unlikely to trouble the top two.
Tarry In Town
Sean Tarry saddles the 7yo Greyville specialist Gold Onyx who was cramped during running, before staying on for a 2,45 length fourth behind Dynamic in the Premier Trophy.
That was his first Cape outing and it is possible that the sedentary pace set by the winner would have played against Gold Onyx.
Joey Ramsden’s smart 3yo Kingvoldt was something of a star 2yo, before stablemate Act Of War arrived on the scene and cast a long shadow over the son of Western Winter.
He was finishing very strongly for third and only 1,95 lengths behind his stablemate in the Cape Guineas and will serve as a very useful line horse for his connections when measured against his performance here against Legislate.
Jockey Karl Neisius will be wasting down to 55kgs and that alone speaks volumes of the value of the ride.
The chances of an upset looks unlikely.
But pace and traffic and the unforeseen can happen.
Legislate ticks all the boxes and has plenty in his favour. But if he fluffs his lines (not something we have seen often) then Louis The King and Futura will both be chasing.
It will be a race fitting of a royal occasion.