The supreme sand specialists gear up in a dress rehearsal for Africa’s richest race on the sand next month. Saturday’s R200 000 Gr3 August Stakes to be run over 1200m at the Vaal has attracted a quality field, with trainer Weiho Marwing holding an ace hand with Uncle Tommy and the younger, Here Comes Billy. The Emerald Cup picture should be clearer after this contest.
Billed as the Supreme Sand Racing season, the festival launched on Saturday 3 August at the Northern Cape track with the running of the RA Flamingo Mile. The Vaal hosts the second leg highlight on Saturday and the season culminates at the same track on Saturday 28 September with the running of the Emerald Cup, Africa’s richest horse race on the sand.
While there are some fair turf protagonists making a bid for glory here and a possible Emerald Cup berth, we are inclined to rather lean towards those with proven ability on a surface that does not allow for any pretences or play acting. A fellow that jumps out of the page is Hassen Adams’ very smart Kahal 6yo Uncle Tommy, who won the RA Flamingo Mile in sensational style by 9 lengths at his last start.
A former turf sprinter, Uncle Tommy has been shrewdly stepped up in ground on sand by Weiho Marwing, and the change from the fairest Cape and the turf, has done wonders. He showed blitzing speed and enthusiasm, when going practically all the way to win the big Kimberley race and appears to have found his niche in life. A winner of five races on the turf in his ‘former life’, there is no doubt that he will have the toe to win a race of this nature, particularly from the best draw.
His stablemate Here Comes Billy has not had the same good fortune with the draw, but appears very promising and talented. S’manga Khumalo was aboard at his last two victories and he rides him again. Here Comes Billy beat Snowdon in excellent style over 1160m on turf last time and was then trumped as ‘an even better horse on sand’ by his astute conditioner.
The winner of 3 from 10 starts has his first run on the sand here and meets Snowdon on 4,5kgs better terms for a 2,25 length walloping. If he is half as good as he is rumoured to be, then we could be in for a serious eye opener.
Charles Laird saddles a coupling of Gr1 Golden Horse Casino Sprint winner Contador and Cup Trial winner Astro News. Contador is an interesting runner. He won his one and only sand start by 9,25 lengths beating Mogok’s Desire over 1000m and will be partnered again by Piere Strydom.
The speed that he showed when winning on the sand was breathtaking and it will be fascinating to see him reproduce that here. Contador has won 4 of his 11 turf starts and as a Gr1 winner must come into consideration. His stablemate Astro News has not runs since an unplaced effort behind Jackson in the Champions Cup on Super Saturday. The Cup Trial victor may be caught short for pace here and would probably prefer 400m further.
Ormond Ferraris’ gallant Western Winter gelding Snowdon is held by Here Comes Billy, but has his first run on this surface late in his career. A favourable draw of 4 and his natural pace and ability, must give the 6yo a fair chance of challenging for a top three finish. Kum Naidoo’s Storm Surf has won his last three races on the sand by an aggregate of close on five lengths.
He beat the Mike Azzie trained Eugenes easily last time but has to contend with a 7kg turnaround in the weights against him. Amply course and distance suited, Saturday’s race will be the acid test for this smart Kahal gelding.
Trainer Mike Azzie is one of the game’s best sand conditioners and many punters include his runners on stable connection alone. The Azz Man has a coupling of the recently improved Winter Romance 4yo Yukon Gold and the older Eugenes. Yukon Gold was a runaway topweight winner over the course and distance in an MR 88 Handicap last time, and now takes on his first serious test under a galloping weight.
He has probably strengthened since being well beaten on the sand by Uncle Tommy in January, and is worth including. Eugenes, as mentioned, is now 7kgs better off with Storm Surf on his last run. The son of Fort Wood looks to have an excellent place chance and is a strong galloper who finishes is races in never say die style.
Last year’s August Stakes winner Across The Ice has an excellent record in this race. Sean Tarry’s 7yo beat Captain’s Secret by 5,25 lengths last year and in 2011 ran a cracking second to The Mouseketeer. He is not getting younger and looks held this time around, but is a quality campaigner with a top jockey in the irons and should not be underestimated.
Leon Erasmus’ Imperial Stride gelding Nice Stride showed remarkable adaptability to the sand when winning his last start over the Vaal 1000m, beating Across The Ice. He is 4,5kgs better off with the Tarry runner after beating him with authority and while the variance in their respective draws could be a balancing factor, it is fair to regard Nice Stride as a serious place contender.
Geoff Woodruff’s Approach-able has only his second start on the sand since winning 4 of his 20 turf outings. The son of Right Approach returns after a five month break and a poor run in the Horse Chestnut Stakes. He was reported lame after that effort and which no doubt accounts for the break.
He ran on well for a close up third behind the accomplished Mr Tobin at his one and only sand start, but should be under pressure here with question marks over his fitness and chances from the worst of the draw. Dennis Drier makes the trip up from Summerveld with the Hussonet gelding Tipo Tinto, who is a winner of 4 races from 20 starts on the turf. He could be anything, but the top KZN conditioner should not be regarded as a holiday tripper.
The race ups the ante in terms of the recent lack of fizz and sparkle on the national programme. Well drawn and fit as a fiddle, Uncle Tommy looks well placed to register a career first stakes victory. He could do so at the expense of his stablemate Here Comes Billy, with all of Contador, Storm Surf and Snowdon likely place challengers.