Gibraltar Blue returned from an absence of more than four months with all guns blazing when she made all the running to see off nine male rivals in the Joburg Spring Challenge over 1450m on the inside track at Turffontein on Saturday. According to trainer Mike de Kock, Gibraltar Blue was found to be lame after a disappointing last effort in the Gr 1 SA Fillies Sprint at Scottsville in May, but the Irish-bred looked as good as ever in her first outing of the current term and connections have high hopes for her during the rest of her five-year-old campaign.
The Joburg Spring Challenge is one of those races that effectively serves as part of the build-up to richer contests ahead and six of the ten starters for this WFA event were returning from an absence of ten weeks or longer. On merit ratings, Gibraltar Blue was weighted the equal of both Bulsara and Rebel Knight, but she was heavily supported from an ante-post call of 16/10 to go off as the 11/10 favourite. Consistent Rebel Knight found considerable support to jump as the 33/10 second favourite from an opening price of 4/1, with Jet Jamboree the 11/2 third choice of punters.
Gibraltar Blue is well known for her frontrunning tactics and 1450m on the sharp inside course was always going to suit her to perfection. She was in the lead almost before the gates had finished opening, and there she remained. She set a good pace ahead of Lochlorien and Captain’s Key, with Winking Jack next in line. Rebel Knight was some way off the action, while Jet Jamboree found himself soon outpaced over this sort of distance and was amongst the backmarkers.
Gibraltar Blue swung for home with a comfortable lead, soon giving another kick and very quickly putting the race beyond the reach of her rivals. Jet Jamboree ran on strongly in the closing stages, but he was always chasing shadows as the favourite romped to a 2.75 lengths victory under Anthony Delpech. Jet Jamboree in turn finished half-a-length in front of third placed Two Tone, who hadn’t been beaten from two previous starts on the inner course and who was also running on nicely at the death. Winking Jack was another 5.25 lengths away in fourth, but Rebel Knight disappointed and made no show before being beaten a total of 9.5 lengths into sixth place. Another 2.25 lengths behind him came Bulsara, who probably needed the run but who nevertheless was a long way below best in his first start since the final day of last season.
Jet Jamboree put up a most eye-catching performance in his first outing since he led throughout to win a Listed event over 1900m on softish ground at Greyville in July and this was a very encouraging performance from a four-year-old who could be shaping up as a proper contender for the Gr 1 Summer Cup over 2000m at the end of next month.
Gibraltar Blue was bred to northern hemisphere time and in the words of her trainer, “she looks bigger and stronger now, she has caught up (with the southern hemisphere breds).” Future plans include a possible tilt at the Gr 2 Charity Mile on November 5th, but according to De Kock the real goal is the Gr 1 Queen’s Plate during the summer. “That’s her game”, noted the trainer, who seems to harbour few doubts that his mare will yet prove fully effective over 1600m despite having looked vulnerable at that distance more than once in the past.
A daughter of Rock Of Gibraltar out of the Bluebird mare Holly Blue, Gibraltar Blue is top class up to 1400m and has every possible chance of still collecting that Gr 1 success which has eluded her to date, especially if she does prove one hundred percent effective over 1600m now that she has matured completely. Her South African record to date reads six wins from ten starts for stakes of R898 750, with her four local defeats all coming at Gr 1 level. She remains unbeaten in this country below the highest grade, and on Saturday it was very easy to see why. One imagines her time in the big league will still come, at any rate if she stays sound.
.Spring Challenge (SAf-G3) (10/8) Turffontein, South Africa, October 8, R200.000, 1450m, turf, good, 1.25.81 (CR 1.25.80). GIBRALTAR BLUE (IRE), 57.5, ch m 5, Rock of Gibraltar (IRE) – Holly Blue (GB) by Bluebird. Owner Klawervlei Stud; breeder Annalee Bloodstock & Rockhart Trading (IRE); trainer M F de Kock; jockey A Delpech (R125.000) Jet Jamboree (SAF), 59.5, b c 4, Jet Master (SAF) – Rollicking Romp (SAF) by Qui Danzig Two Tone (SAF), 60.0, b c 5, Strike Smartly (CAN) – Wild Almond (SAF) by Fort Wood Margins: 2¾, ½, 5¼ Also ran: Winking Jack (SAF) 60.0, Captain Scott (SAF) 60.0, Rebel Knight (SAF) 60.0, Bulsara (SAF) 60.0, Furious Dancer (SAF) 59.5, Captain’s Key (SAF) 59.5, Lochlorien (SAF) 60.