Past Master made his intentions for the KZN Feature abundantly clear when he produced a strong late run to win the Drill Hall Stakes over 1400m at Greyville on Tuesday evening. writes Matthew Lips. This WFA event is invariably used as a stepping stone to even bigger races ahead during the winter campaign and Past Master was starting for the first time since he won the J&B Met in late January.
Kavanagh is widely considered to be at his best over distances of around 1400m and the only three-year-old in a field of 11 was sent off as the well supported 15/10 favourite to get champion trainer Mike de Kock’s KZN season off to a flying start. Past Master was the 7/2 second favourite, with 2010 Drill Hall winner Tropical Empire going off as the 13/2 third choice.
Paraguayito set a reasonable if not overly hectic early pace, with Captain’s Secret closest to him as Kavanagh raced right in touch with the leaders. Super Storm and Golden Chariot were further back ahead of Big City Life, who was starting for the first time since last June after being laid up with a tendon problem. Past Master was amongst the backmarkers and wasn’t giving his backers much to look forward to as Gerrit Schlechter had to keep niggling at him to try and stay within reasonable striking distance. Tropical Empire raced in last place, having come across to the rail after jumping from the widest gate.
Kavanagh looked to have plenty of running in him as he came through to tackle Paraguayito and Captain’s Secret in the straight. The favourite looked to have every chance of winning coming into the last 200m, but his effort began to fizzle out and it was Captain’s Secret who hit the front inside the last 100m, looking the most probable winner. Past Master was however finally starting to respond to his rider’s urgings. Finding another gear once straightened up for home, the four-year-old unleashed an impressive turn of foot which saw him collar Captain’s Secret in the dying strides to win by a head. Captain’s secret’s stable companion Rushing Wind had not been particularly quickly away, but ran on stoutly to finish a further two lengths adrift in third. Kavanagh was half-a-length behind him in fourth, and while the three-year-old didn’t face a particularly easy test against some top class opposition his apparent lack of enthusiasm in the final stages was a little disconcerting.
Big City Life failed to kick on and finished with only one behind him, but he ran quite well to be beaten five lengths by the winner and he should come on from this effort. Whether the 2009 Vodacom Durban July winner is still the same horse he once was remains to be seen, but there is room for cautious optimism. Tropical Empire may be getting a little long in the tooth and failed to produce the storming finish we have often seen from him at Greyville, where he has become known for being something of a course specialist, and he finished some five lengths behind Past Master in ninth place.
Past Master would not have been at his very best for the Drill Hall, something which his jockey confirmed afterwards, and there is plenty for trainer Darryl Hodgson to work with ahead of a probable bid for the Vodacom Durban July. This was Past Master’s first attempt at racing around a right-handed turn, which may have had plenty to do with the fact that he didn’t travel at all smoothly until into the straight, and the experience will stand him in good stead. He is a highly versatile sort who has won Graded races from 1200m to 2000m this season, although the slow early pace at which the J&B Met was run played into his hands and there must still be a question mark as to whether he will stay a strongly-run 2200m. On the positive side, Past Master if anything appears to still be getting better and we are very likely to be hearing from him again during the course of his Durban sojourn.
Past Master is a gelded son of champion sire Jet Master and is out of the Western Winter mare Early Thaw, who won four races, all over 1200m. Bred at Hyjo Stud and purchased for R375 000 at the 2008 National Yearling Sale, Past Master has won six times from eleven starts and collected stakes of R2 107 270 for owner Hassen Adams.
.Drill Hall S. (SAf-G2) (5/3) Greyville, South Africa, May 3, R300.000, 1400m, turf, good, 1.24.63 (CR 1.21.13). 1- PAST MASTER (SAF), 60.0, ch g 4, Jet Master (SAF) – Early Thaw (SAF) by Western Winter. Owner H Adams; breeder Hyjo Stud (SAF); trainer D R Hodgson; jockey G Schlechter (R198.913) 2 -Captain’s Secret (SAF), 60.0, b g 4, Captain Al (SAF) – She’s No Secret (SAF) by Our Casey’s Boy 3 – Rushing Wind (SAF), 60.0, b g 5, Windrush – Nordic Vine (SAF) by Northern Guest Margins: sh hd, 2, ½ Also ran: Kavanagh (SAF) 58.0, Super Storm (SAF) 60.0, Martial Eagle (SAF) 60.0, Golden Chariot (SAF) 60.0, Paraguayito (ARG) 60.0, Tropical Empire (AUS) 60.0, Big City Life (SAF) 60.0, Ozymandias (SAF) 60.0