Gr1 Queen’s Plate

Mother Russia in a class of her own

Mary Slack & Mother Russia - Queen's Plate 2011

Mother Russia will be a popular favourite on January 29th to go one better on her second place finish in the J & B Met of 2010 after she ran out a highly impressive winner of the l’Ormarins Queen’s Plate over 1600m at Kenilworth on Saturday, writes Matthew Lips.

Always one of the best races in the South African calendar, the Queen’s Plate’s profile has grown to new heights since Jonathan Snaith was put in charge of marketing the event three years ago.  This year marked the 150th anniversary of the Queen’s Plate and Snaith opted to concentrate his marketing efforts on the racing rather than the social side of the event.  He was given plenty to work with, too, for this must have been one of the most keenly anticipated races that we have seen for quite some time.

In addition to Mother Russia, the Queen’s Plate attracted unbeaten three-year-old filly Ebony Flyer (representing the Snaith team), the grand old man Pocket Power (who was bidding to win the race for an astonishing fifth time), and the much spoken-about Past Master, a runaway winner of a Gr2 event over 1200m three weeks earlier.  For racing fans this showdown sold itself, but Jonathan Snaith had the somewhat unenviable task of selling it to people who don’t know Mother Russia from a Faberge egg and his efforts paid off when a very healthy crowd by today’s standards descended on Kenilworth.

Getting Neil Andrews, easily one of the most recognisable sports broadcasters in South Africa, to take care of the on-course presenting throughout the ten race programme was also a plus.   This is by no means meant to be disrespectful towards Cape Town’s regular on-course experts Stan Elley and Grant Knowles, but to people who know almost nothing about racing the continued presence on the many TV sets around the course of someone that they do know would surely have been a spur to listen and hopefully boost the betting turnover by following his advice.   Whether any of them arrived home richer than when they’d left it is another matter, but big racedays are seldom easy to some tough results littered the card.

Not in the Queen’s Plate, though.  Mother Russia was a strongly supported 18/10 favourite from an ante-post call of 3/1, with Pocket Power and Ebony Flyer the joint second favourites at 3/1.  Past Master was next in line at 4/1, but you could have named your own price about any of the other ten participants.

The Queen’s Plate was not merely a terrific Gr 1 on paper, it proved to be no less so in reality.  It was run at the sort of testing pace that true racing fans want to see (but so often don’t) in major events, with Captain’s Secret hopping out smartly but soon settling into second as his stable companion Blue Tiger blasted off to the front.  Blue Tiger made sure they didn’t hang about and set a good tempo ahead of Captain’s Secret and Celtic Fire, with Ebony Flyer nicely placed in fourth after doing a pretty good job of getting in from her wide draw.  Mother Russia had started from the 1 gate and hugged the rail in fifth place, with Tales Of Bravery and Pocket Power further back.

The frontrunners were never likely to maintain this sort of pace to the line and it wasn’t long once into the straight before Blue Tiger began to weaken.  Captain’s Secret was also out of gas coming to the last 300m, by which time Mother Russia had already made her move.  Travelling extremely well under Anton Marcus, the favourite soon blasted into a healthy lead and had the race won more than 200m from the finish.  Tales Of Bravery set off in gallant but ultimately futile pursuit as Mother Russia kept up a remorseless gallop to win by 2.25 lengths in truly impressive fashion.

Tales Of Bravery came out second best, three-quarters of a length in front of third placed Ebony Flyer.  The latter may have suffered her first career defeat in what is likely to have been her final South African appearance, but she was hardly disgraced.  This was always going to be a stiff test for a three-year-old filly, even one of her extremely ample size and strength, and the hot pace at which the Queen’s Plate was contested only served to turn it into a more severe task.  She simply couldn’t match the turn of foot which wrapped the race up for Mother Russia long before the finish, but she more than showed that she belongs in this type of race and the daughter of Jet Master will be followed with great interest wherever in the world her career takes her.

Pocket Power had every chance, but could only stay on to finish a never dangerous fourth, 4.25 lengths behind the winner.  As far as is known, in the (relatively) modern era only the great American gelding Kelso has ever won the same Gr 1 race five times in succession, and that was in the 1960s.  It was a monumental achievement, and Pocket Power (who was suffering his first defeat from 11 tries over 1600m at Kenilworth) was unable to emulate it.   Still, there is no reason why he shouldn’t have yet another bash at the J & B Met.

Past Master was never in the hunt before he finished sixth, beaten 5.75 lengths behind the winner, but vis-à-vis Pocket Power he repeated almost to the inch the form of their meeting in the Gr2 Green Point Stakes over 1600m at Kenilworth last November.  Only Tales Of Bravery ran above what he’d shown when he finished fourth in the Green Point, but he was found to be suffering from a lung infection after that race.  There is little to really suggest that Pocket Power ran below his Green Point form in the Queen’s Plate.  He isn’t quite as good as he used to be, and at the age of eight who would begrudge him that?

Mother Russia had been conceding lumps of weight to the respective winners when she finished second in the Gr2 Victory Moon Stakes and Gr1 Sansui Summer Cup in her first two appearances of the season.  The evidence strongly suggests that the five-year-old is not merely the best middle distance female in South Africa at present, but that she is simply the best horse in training.  The conditions of the J & B Met won’t be quite as kind to her as the WFA terms of the Queen’s Plate, but the way the Met weights are structured these days makes it a good deal more likely that a top class horse will win it as opposed to a good horse who is well weighted.

Although it is still arguable that 1600/1800m is where she is at her very best, Mother Russia gets 2000m well enough and was only collared close home by River Jetez after being made plenty of use of from a wide draw in last season’s Met.  She looks to have every chance of going one better come the last Saturday of the month, and if anything her display in the Queen’s Plate strongly suggests that Mike de Kock’s mare is even better now than she has ever been in the past.

That view was confirmed by her owner Mary Slack, in whose Wilgerbosdrift stud colours Mother Russia races, when she noted that her mare had grown by “an inch and a half” during her lay-off in the latter part of last year.  Many mares only reach their peak at the age of five, and the Mother Russia of today is some cookie.  The way she was travelling with plenty seemingly left in the tank against a field of the Queen’s Plate’s quality spoke volumes.

Winning rider Anton Marcus has never been beaten aboard Mother Russia.  “I probably pulled the trigger too early,” he confessed, but added that he didn’t want to give the “550 kg filly” (Ebony Flyer) any chance of getting into a scrap with his mount.  With the winning trainer watching on TV from Dubai, it was left to his wife Diane to state the fairly obvious when asked whether the J & B Met was next on the agenda.  “I think so,” she replied.  We all assume that to be a “yes.”

Mother Russia is by far the best horse sired to date by Seeking The Gold stallion Windrush.  She is the fifth foal and third winner produced from Russian Fox mare Russian Muse, who won only one race over 1100m but who is a half sister to the dam of dual Queen’s Plate winner and former horse-of-the-year Winter Solstice.  This is also the female line of Gr1 Cape Derby winner Bravura, who is likely to oppose his former stable companion Mother Russia in the J & B Met.

Mother Russia was originally acquired for R160 000 at the 2007 Grandwest Yearling Sale and was trained by Joey Ramsden for Klawervlei Stud until she was sold to Wilgerbosdrift in a private deal and moved to De Kock into the latter part of her three-year-old season.  She has a full sister on offer on the second day of the inaugural Cape Premier Yearling Sale later this month.  Bred by Veronica Foulkes at Normandy Stud, Mother Russia has won thirteen times from 26 starts and earned R4 554 638.

l’Ormarins Queen’s Plate (SAf-G1) (1/8)

Kenilworth, South Africa, January 8, R1 million, 1600m, turf, good, 1.36.46 (CR 1.36.20).

MOTHER RUSSIA (SAF), 57.5, b m 5, Windrush – Russian Muse (SAF) by Russian Fox. Owner Wilgerbosdrift; breeder Normandy Stud (SAf); trainer M F de Kock; jockey A Marcus (R663.043)

Tales Of Bravery (SAF), 60.0, b g 4, Kahal (GB) – Emperor’s Warning (SAF) by Caesour

Ebony Flyer (SAF), 52.5, b f 3, Jet Master (SAF) – Sunshine Lover (SAF) by Badger Land

Margins: 2¼, ¾, 1¼

Also ran: Pocket Power (SAF) 60.0, Rushing Wind (SAF) 60.0, Past Master (SAF) 60.0, Super Storm (SAF) 60.0, Casey Cool (SAF) 60.0, Celtic Fire (SAF) 60.0, Blue Tiger (SAF) 60.0, Captain’s Secret (SAF) 60.0, American Man (AUS) 60.0, Tropical Empire (AUS) 60.0, Time And Love (SAF) 60.0


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