2011 is still in its infancy, but there may not be a closer finish to a Graded race this year than the cavalry charge that concluded the Peninsula Handicap over 1800m at Kenilworth on Wednesday. A tick under four lengths covered the first fourteen runners to cross the line in a race which probably had the handicappers whooping with delight, a joy that would be have been shared by bookmakers and only a few punters after 40/1 outsider Lion In Winter came from last on the turn to snatch a narrow success, writes Matthew Lips.
The Peninsula Handicap is for many horses the last opportunity to secure a place in the J & B Met field and is always a keenly contested affair. Some additional spice was added to the mix this year with the presence of the very promising three-year-olds Run For It and M’Lords Throat, who were respectively coming off a second and a fifth place finish in the BSA Cape Guineas in December. Run For It went off as a joint 7/2 favourite with 2010 Peninsula winner Fort Vogue, with M’Lords Throat a 6/1 chance as the likes of In Writing and Saluki found support at bigger prices. Lion In Winter was almost completely ignored in his first attempt at a distance he hardly seemed guaranteed to stay.
The early pace was respectable enough, with Winter’s Night narrowly showing up in front from Grafton Street and Noblewood. Saluki, M’Lords Throat and Forest Of Dean were next in line as Run For It and Fort Vogue both waited in around midfield. Lion Of Winter brought up the rear, giving away at least a dozen lengths start. Grafton Street was disputing the lead with Winter’s Night as the field turned for home, where for the most part they congregated on the middle-to-outside portions of the course.
Fort Vogue and M’Lords Throat came forward to challenge inside the last 300m, where Run For It found his path blocked when making ground and had to ease before regaining his momentum. Almost anything could have won racing past the 200m mark, with a line of contenders dicing it out, but almost unnoticed was Lion In Winter. Sticking to a path on the far side of his 15 rivals and finding all the clear galloping space he needed as a result, the four-year-old charged through very late under Glen Hatt with Paddy O’Reilly right on his heels to grab the advantage in the dying stages and deny the running-on Paddy O’Reilly by a head.
Run For It was running on well to be only another head away in third and could easily be considered to have been an unlucky loser in a race that mapped out in a way that made some hard-luck stories virtually inevitable. In Writing was also running on and finished fourth, three-quarters of a length behind Run For It. M’Lords Throat and Fort Vogue appeared to have every chance before they respectively finished fifth and seventh, just 1.45 lengths and 1.65 lengths behind the winner. The 14th horse in a maximum field of 16 was officially beaten 3.95 lengths in a textbook example of what a really competitive handicap should in theory be all about.
Paddy O’Reilly could be one to take out of this race, along with Run For It.. The runner-up does often lose ground at the start, but this effort heralded a return to the kind of form which saw Paddy beaten some three lengths behind Bravura at level weights in the Cape Derby last season and as the non-winner of a Feature race the weights would give him a shout of reversing that form with Bravura if Paddy O’Reilly does get into the J & B Met. It still remains to be seen whether Run For It has a tilt at the Met or goes for the Cape Derby on the same day, but he promises to be right at home over 2000m and he would certainly be one to reckon with especially if connections opt to keep him against his own generation in the Derby.
The very close nature of the finish removes some of the drama from the fact that Lion In Winter managed to get past every one of his rivals in the straight, but it was still a smart effort from Joey Ramsden’s gelding especially as he started from the widest gate of them all, and the step up in trip obviously suited him. He had not really been in the best form since returning from his KZN winter campaign, although he had run on late in a farcical contest which wasn’t run to suit him in his most recent start. Some previous winners of the Peninsula have gone on to Gr 1 success, including Lion In Winter’s stable companion Ivory Trail, but they don’t have a great record in the J & B Met although Fort Vogue did at least manage to finish fourth in the Kenilworth showpiece after winning the Peninsula last season.
Lion In Winter is by Western Winter, the former champion sire whose progeny have been in fantastic form in Cape Town’s Feature events this season. He is the fifth foal and third winner produced from Pas De Quoi mare Lady Curator, who won three races up to 1200m. Not one of Lion In Winter’s first three dams won over further than 1400m, which is also the longest distance over which Western Winter was successful, so it was easy to think that 1800m would prove too far for Ramsden’s runner, but with hindsight one can conclude that at least some of his damsire Pas De Quoi’s stamina has rubbed off on Lion In Winter. Bred by Lammerskraal Stud and bought for R550 000 at the 2008 Equimark Vintage Yearling Sale, Lion In Winter has won five times from 20 starts and earned R444 429.
Peninsula Hcp (SAf-G2) (1/5)
Kenilworth, South Africa, January 5, R300.000, 1800m, turf, good, 1.52.38 (CR 1.48.98).
LION IN WINTER (SAF), 58.5, b g 4, Western Winter (USA) – Lady Curator (SAF) by Pas De Quoi (SAF). Owner Mr M J T Wickens and Miss G Burg; breeder Lammerskraal Stud (SAF); trainer J Ramsden; jockey G Hatt (R198.913)
Paddy O’Reilly (SAF), 56.5, b g 4, Dynasty (SAF) – West Donegal (SAF) by West Man
Run For It (SAF), 55.0, b c 3, Dynasty (SAF) – Running Rhythm (SAF) by Jallad
Margins: nose, nose, ¾
Also ran: In Writing (ARG) 56.0, M’lords Throat (SAF) 52.0, Forest Of Dean (SAF) 52.5, Fort Vogue (SAF) 60.0, Winter’s Night (SAF) 58.0, Last Regal (SAF) 59.0, Cask (SAF) 57.0, League Of Honour (AUS) 54.5, Saluki (GB) 55.0, Mighty Atom (SAF) 58.5, Noblewood (SAF) 57.0, Hawk’s Eye (GB) 59.0, Grafton Street (SAF) 59.5