Met: Former Top Jock Cautions ‘It’s Open’

'Ít's run on turf - not paper'

The weight-for-age conditions of the Sun Met have taken some of the gloss off the old-fashioned long-term strategy adopted by trainers of bringing a horse through the ranks and perfectly weighted to win it.

2005 Met champions – Alastor, Garth Puller & Sean Tarry

Three-time Met winning jockey Garth Puller says that despite the weight-for-age conditions and the smart performances of the top trio in the build-up, it remains a relatively wide open race – and a prize every one of the thirteen jockeys, trainers and their owners are desperate to win.

Trainer Brett Crawford received plenty of credit for planning the Kieswetter family’s 2017 Met winner Whisky Baron’s path to success.

Whisky Baron (photo: Wayne Marks)

Whisky Baron Sun Met lead in (photo: Wayne Marks)

Named in honour of Ridgemont Highlands supremo Wayne Kieswetter, Whisky Baron enjoyed a relatively low profile coming in to the big race – having only made his debut as a 3yo and winning a maiden at the third time of asking. Whisky Baron made progress through early 2016, finishing second behind this evening’s Dubai first starter Marinaresco in the G3 Winter Guineas and Winter Classic, and came into the Met off a fourth consecutive victory achieved in the Gr2 Glorious Goodwood Peninsula Handicap – his first win of consequence.

Garth drives Pas De Quoi home to win the Met in 1994

“I recall Jackie Bell telling me I had to win a B Division race carrying 59kgs to get Snow Fun into the Met in 1970. I duly won on him. He was an astute trainer and had chartered the path into the big race. They backed him – carrying 49kgs if I remember correctly – and as I was still an apprentice they commissioned Duncan Alexander to ride him. He duly won – I ran fourth on the stablemate,” recalled Garth Puller, who was to go on and ride Gatecrasher, Pas De Quoi and Alastor to Met victories.

We asked if there was a chance of the Cape Crawl on Saturday?

“Look, I can’t see them crawling along – but it’s not impossible for the pace to be quite sedentary in the Met. The rule of thumb says that in the bigger features, in view of the competitive quality of the majority of the field, that they will scramble and go out to dispute the lead. A good pace will find the genuine milers out and I think the fact that the Snaiths have four nice runners in the race, that they will ensure that there is no dawdle. That said, I doubt that a horse like Milton that has led early over 1800m, won’t be leading from the jump.”

Garth Puller suggests Made To Conquer can win it (Gold Circle)

His pick is the 16-1 shot Made To Conquer, one of the Snaith quartet.

“Like all the Snaith horses, he has had a perfect prep. I believe that if Grant van Niekerk hadn’t circled the July field on African Night Sky last season, that Made To Conquer would have just about won that race. He is a versatile relatively lightly exposed 5yo – he can run up there and from off them. He stays well. He is fit. Sure, on his official rating, he has some ground to make up at the weights – but in the heat of the battle field, it is not necessarily the best dressed soldier that survives,”he quips.

He suggests that Rainbow Bridge and Do It Again, and even Legal Eagle, are the others worth including.

“I spoke to Eric (Sands) and he has managed to get some nice condition back on to Rainbow Bridge. Personally I feel that he didn’t enjoy the best of rides at his last two starts and with Anton Marcus up on Saturday, riding a supremely fit and very talented horse, things could get interesting. I’d love for Eric to win it, frankly!”

Rainbow Bridge will strip in top condition (Chase Liebenberg Photography)

He says that any horse that wins the July and the Queen’s Plate is a worthy favourite.

“Do It Again has lots in his favour. Fit, prepped to perfection, and at the top of his game, he also enjoys the services of Richard Fourie – a guy riding at the top of his game and brimming with confidence. I’m sure Richard will ride him like he did in the Queen’s Plate – and he should enjoy the extra. A big runner – but that’s not difficult to work out.”

Garth suggested that there could be some irony in the fact that Legal Eagle will probably ‘be ridden the way he should be’ for the first time in ages.

Legal Eagle after the Green Point win (Chase Liebenberg Photography)

“He won the SA Derby over 2450m as a 3yo coming from off them and running uphill at Turffontein! How does he not stay? He has just been so superior to everything he has met, he has gotten away with running up there. If they drop him in from the wide draw and ride him cold, it could be interesting! I am not saying he will win it – but he won’t be far off in my opinion.”

With a headwind forecast for Saturday, the veteran former champion says that the good jockeys will know what to do.

“Look, any cover is valuable with a headwind. It’s a long straight and spinning for home out front is going to test the character, legs and heart. Watch those tracking the leader into the straight. I say again that Made To Conquer is good value at the price!”

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