The Matchem Stakes for three-and-four-year olds is one of the new Cape season’s first important tests, and it is more often than not won by one of the younger generation. This year was no different. Only two three-year-olds turned out to oppose nine year-older rivals over the Durbanville 1400m on Sunday, but that proved to be more than enough as Variety Club showed his elders (and one fellow sophomore) a clean pair of heels to land the spoils in good style.
Variety Club was making his seasonal debut and was starting for the first time since he narrowly failed to topple ace Port Elizabeth two-year-old In A Rush in the Gr 3 Champion Juvenile Stakes at Fairview in July. Joey Ramsden’s colt was an easy to back 6/1 chance for the Matchem. It was Depardieu, the only other three-year-old in the field, who was well supported from an ante-post call of 7/2 to start as the 22/10 favourite despite a rather disappointing (albeit on not very favourable weight terms) seasonal debut in a Listed race at Kenilworth in September. Run For It was appearing in public for the first time since finishing 13th in the Vodacom Durban July and was the 4/1 second favourite from an opening call of 11/2, with Sports Coach the 9/2 third choice of the marker in only his second Cape Town appearance after a very long absence.
The early pace was decent and it was well known frontrunner Cap Alright – a stable companion to Run For It – who showed the way ahead of Master Barry and Variety Club, with Sports Coach and Run For It next in line. Depardieu was held up some way off the early pace, with Splash Gold amongst the backmarkers in his first appearance of the season. Run For It began to make steady headway towards the far side not long after turning in, where the somewhat outclassed Cap Alright quickly began to feel the pinch.
Variety Club was in the perfect position to strike, though, and looked to have the race pretty much in safe keeping coming into the last 200m. Run For It stayed on all the way to the line, but he simply could not match the finishing speed of Variety Club, who ran on well under Glen Hatt to beat Run For It by 2.25 lengths. Depardieu made steady late headway wider out to finish third, half-a-length further away and in turn about a neck in front of The Shark, who had every chance. Sports Coach weakened to finish eighth, some 7.5 lengths behind the winner.
Run For It has not won a race for virtually a year, but this was a pleasing seasonal debut from last term’s J&B Met third and he remains of interest for the Cape summer Features which lie ahead. He is better beyond 1400m, and will surely come on from this run. Depardieu was not disgraced and shaped as though more ground will suit him, but he proved to match for Variety Club, who’d been beaten more than four lengths into fifth place when Depardieu won the Gr 3 Cape Nursery over 1200m last May.
Variety Club has thrived since going beyond sprints, winning the Gr 3 Langerman over 1500m on soft ground in June, and Joey Ramsden could well be eyeing the traditional Gr 2 Selangor Cup route into the Gr 1 Cape Guineas this summer. Whether the colt has done enough to shape as a serious Guineas horse may be a matter of opinion and some of those he beat on Sunday didn’t run to their best, but this could still easily be considered to have been the most impressive display of Variety Club’s career to date and once again gave the lie to the fairly popular theory that the progeny of Var who do well as two-year-olds don’t really train on.
Variety Club is the ninth foal and seventh winner produced from Secret Prospector mare La Massine, who won only one race over 1200m but who is also the dam of Mauritius horse-of-the-year Rhythmically. Bred by Anton Shepherd’s Beaumont Stud and acquired for R425 000 at the 2010 Cape Vintage Yearling Sale, Variety Club races in the highly familiar Ingrid and Markus Jooste silks and has won four of his seven races for R332 316 in stakes.
.Matchem S. (SAf-G3) (10/9) Durbanville, South Africa, October 9, R200.000, 1400m, turf, good, 1.24.68 (CR 1.23.80). VARIETY CLUB (SAF), 53.5, ch c 3, Var – La Massine (SAF) by Secret Prospector. Owner Mrs I Jooste and Mr M J Jooste; breeder Beaumont Stud (SAF); trainer J Ramsden; jockey G Hatt (132.609) Run For It (SAF), 60.0, b c 4, Dynasty (SAF) – Running Rhythm (SAF) by Jallad Depardieu (SAF), 53.5, b c 3, Dupont (GB) – Diva (SAF) by Trigger Finger Margins: 2¼, ½, nk Also ran: The Shark (ZIM) 60.0, Master Barry (SAF) 60.0, Splash Gold (SAF) 60.0, Cap Alright (SAF) 60.0, Sports Coach (SAF) 60.0, Abington (SAF) 60.0, Chrysalis (SAF) 60.0, Cypress Point (SAF) 60.0