Mike de Kock appeared to hold a very strong hand with Link Man and Gibraltar Blue in the Merchants over 1160m at Turffontein on Saturday, but the unpredictable nature of handicap racing was again well illustrated when the two were upstaged by 40/1 outsider Antious, writes Matthew Lips
Link Man had made an impressive seasonal debut in a conditions event over the same course-and-distance earlier in November and went off as the 14/10 favourite in a field of 10 for the Merchants. Stable companion Gibraltar Blue was supported from an ante-post price of 4/1 to start as the 28/10 second favourite, with Snowdon the most fancied of the non-De Kock runners at 9/2 after being beaten two lengths by Link Man on 4 kgs worse terms earlier in the month. Shea Shea was a 7/1 chance after being beaten five lengths behind Link Man on his seasonal debut, but Antious had done most of his racing over 1400/1600m and was barely afforded a second glance by most punters.
Polar Moon was the early leader from Gibraltar Blue and Officer Class, with Antious and Snowdon further back as Link Man race towards the rear after not getting off to the best of starts. Shea Shea was also several lengths off the initial action. Polar Moon weakened quickly inside the last 400m, leaving Gibraltar Blue to try and make the best of her way home as Link Man started to make up ground on the outside rail, but Antious was also right in the mix and refused to go away. Taking full of advantage of the 3.5 kgs which he received from Gibraltar Blue and the 5 kgs he was getting from Link Man, Antious produced the stronger turn of finishing speed and ran on strongly under Ian Sturgeon to win by three-quarters of a length from Gibraltar Blue, with Link Man another half-a-length away in third.
Snowdon had every chance, but lacked the necessary extra in the final stages and finished a further half-length behind Link Man in fourth. Shea Shea was never seen with a chance and was beaten 4.75 lengths behind the winner into sixth place, while Arabian Mist made no show in his bid to win this race for a third time. Polar Moon compounded to finish last.
Link Man was far from disgraced under 59.5 kgs and probably is at his very best over a little further. His prep for the Gr 1 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate over 1600m at Kenilworth in January looks to be going very nicely, although it remains to be seen whether travel restrictions arising from a recent outbreak of African Horse Sickness in the Gauteng area will allow him to make the trip to Cape Town.
This was a very different ending to a raid on Johannesburg for Antious, who had finished 20 lengths behind Link Man when making one previous visit to Turffontein for the Gauteng Guineas last February. Subsequently gelded, the Argentine-bred import finished fifth on soggy going in his first start since the operation but has now won three times from as many appearances since. His most recent success before the Merchants came over 1600m at Clairwood in October, but that was in a race run at a farcically slow pace and it is now obvious with the ever-useful help of 20/20 hindsight that he doesn’t lack for speed.
Four-year-old Antious is trained by the recently formed partnership of Herman Brown and his previous long-time assistant Frank Robinson. A son of Pure Prize out of the Affirmed mare Adira, Antious has won five times from 15 starts and earned R527 033 in stakes.