What A Winter and Shea Shea are both absentees, but there are still some smart three-year-olds left behind to take on their elders (whose ranks are also watered down by the absence of Val De Ra) in the WFA Mercury Sprint. Magico and Splash Gold both come here in fine form and they are taken to put the older horses in their place, but the race looks very competitive, writes MATTHEW LIPS.
Magico is a narrow first choice even though he is trying 1200m for the first time. This member of the red-hot Paul Peter stable was fitted with blinkers for the first time when he drew clear in imperious fashion to beat Furious Dancer by 6.25 lengths in a three-year-olds Feature over 1000m in sticky going at Clairwood last month, a performance which hinted strongly that he probably would cope with an additional 200m. He is facing a much stronger field now, but fourth placed The Shark gave that form a boost when winning a decent set weights race next time out. Magico was staying on strongly when 2.75 lengths fourth behind flying filly Val De Ra in the Gr 1 Computaform Sprint over 1000m at Turffontein, and Val De Ra has won again since in the highest grade. That suggests that Magico is a sprinter of very real ability and he has every chance of presenting his trainer with his first Gr 1 success on Saturday.
Fellow three-year-old Splash Gold is rated one pound superior to Magico by the handicapper and is very well proven over 1200m, with three wins at the distance to his name already. Dean Kannemeyer’s gelding has an excellent turn of foot and quickened from a long way off the pace when beating Rebel Knight by 1.25 lengths in the Gr 2 Post Merchants (handicap) over 1200m at Greyville a month ago. That proved that he can do better than when he finished seventh in the Gr 1 Golden Horse Sprint at Scottsville in May, for he ran above that form in the Post Merchants, and the son of Goldkeeper has every chance of posting his first Gr 1 success here.
Best of the older horses could be Exclaim’nExclude, especially because he can boast four wins from four lifetime appearances at Clairwood, three of them over 1200m. He ran on well to beat Captain’s Secret by half-a-length over 1200m here in May and faces that rival on the same weight terms. However, Captain’s Secret was then beaten 2.10 lengths behind Splash Gold in the Merchants, on the same weight terms which apply here. Collateral form would seem to leave both four-year-olds with a length or two to find against Splash Gold, but Clairwood is a very different course to Greyville and an overly literal reading of the form could be dangerous. Exclaim’n’Exclude lacked extra after racing handy when he finished 1.85 lengths behind Magico in the Computaform Sprint, but Charles Laird’s gelding seems more effective at the coast and remains worthy of respect.
Captain’s Secret is consistent and should again finish pretty much wherever Exclaim’n’Exclude does. His trainer Mike Bass sends out a further three runners and the most intriguing of them is Covenant, who takes on male rivals for the first time. A Gr 2 winner against her own gender over 1200m in January before winning a Gr 1 over 1600m later that same month, Covenant was drawn wide when she lacked extra late and finished a somewhat disappointing third behind Fragrant Al in the Gr 2 Tibouchina Stakes over 1450m in sticky going at Clairwood last month. However, the runner-up Happy Archer won a Gr 1 next time out, and Covenant’s 2.5 lengths third behind Val De Ra in the Gr 1 SA Fillies Sprint over 1200m in May suggests she is not at all without a chance against the boys, several of whom have crossed swords with Val De Ra on WFA terms themselves and been beaten by further than that.
Mike Bass will also be represented by Gaultier and Rushing Wind. The former still retains plenty of ability and set the pace before he finished about two lengths fourth behind Splash Gold in the Post Merchants. He doesn’t seem too reliable these days, but on current form he can be given a place chance even though he has the least favourable draw. Rushing Wind is versatile, but he has not shown in his last couple of starts when he did when finishing very strongly to be beaten 1.25 lengths by What A Winter in the Gr 1 Cape Flying Championship over 1000m in January. He finished behind quite a few of these in the Golden Horse Sprint at Scottsville, but it’s possible that he will bounce back at any moment and he would have a money chance at least if he found his very best ability on Saturday.
August Rush reverts to what is probably his optimum distance after finishing a very game second under 62 kgs in a 1000m handicap at Greyville on July day. Neil Bruss’ gelding ran on well when less than one length second behind Shea Shea in the Golden Horse Sprint the last time he went 1200m and a literal reading of that form gives him an excellent chance as it gives him the beating of Splash Gold. As already noted, Splash Gold should not be judged too harshly on his Scottsville effort, where he was unfavourably drawn, but nor can one simply ignore what’s in the form book and August Rush is certainly not without a realistic chance.
Jinzo was conceding winner Wild Shot 7 kgs when running on to be beaten 1.25 lengths in a recent handicap over this course-and-distance, which marked a return to form after a moderate penultimate effort behind Exclaim’n’Exclude, but others appeal as being a little too classy for him on WFA terms. Rabattache hs been very well beaten in both the Golden Horse Sprint and the Post Merchants at his last two starts. He can do better on these weight terms and was only about two lengths behind Exclaim’n’Exclude over the course-and-distance in May, but even that leaves him with something to find.
Copper Parade has made no show in two starts since he won a very ordinary Scottsville handicap in June and looks held safe even though he was drawn wide when almost five lengths tenth behind Splash Gold in the Post Merchants. Stable companion Bush Pirate was also not well drawn when he finished just in front of Copper Parade in the Post Merchants, but again a good deal more than that will be required. He subsequently finished 2.5 lengths behind August Rush over 1000m and faces that rival on virtually identical weight terms. Never Forever was drawn wide in that 1000m Greyville effort and can be excused his no show effort there, but he was beaten 2.25 lengths into third by Splash Gold in the Post Merchants and now meets his younger opponent on 5 kgs worse terms. He is the only horse in this field whose merit rating doesn’t run to three figures and it’s hard to imagine that the handicappers can be that far wrong.
With no Val De Ra in the field, the pace may not be particularly frantic for a Gr 1 sprint, although Gaultier has early speed and could try and use it to come across from his unfavourable draw. The Mercury Sprint nonetheless doesn’t promise to be the most furiously run 1200m event in history, a state of affairs which could suit Magico to perfection, and he is narrowly preferred to Splash Gold, who can also quicken well from a handy position if needs be. Covenant can make it a “trifecta” of three-year-olds, with August Rush and the course specialist Exclaim’n’Exclude most favoured of the rest.