Gr3 Xmas Handicap: Strike One

1st leg of Boxing Day feature double for Strike Smartly

Boxing Day was a red letter day for progeny of the late Strike Smartly, who sired the winners of both Gr 3 events across South Africa, and it was Rich Strike who set the ball rolling when he captured the Christmas Handicap over 1600m at Clairwood, writes Matthew Lips.

This traditional December 26th fixture looked even more competitive than ever and the handicappers must have felt well satisfied with their work when no strong favourite emerged from amongst the maximum field of 16.  Rich Strike eventually went off as the 5/1 market leader ahead of Askari and Orbit War, who were both well supported to go off as the 6/1 joint second favourites ahead of the 15/2 shots Keat’s Drift and Safwan.

Royal Rocker didn’t waste much time employing his usual frontrunning tactics on the soft ground and set a decent pace from Directorate and Dynamite Mike, with Rich Strike perfectly poised in fourth at the rail.  Orbit War was not far behind the leaders after coming across from the widest draw, with Keat’s Drift in the pack and Askari out amongst the backmarkers.  Safwan was also well towards the rear of the big field as Royal Rocker led them for home.

The pacesetter found more early in the straight, and was still going great guns up front coming to the last 200m, where Rich Strike was chasing him down the inside and Keat’s Drift was starting to stay on as well.  Royal Rocker might conceivably have gone all the way to the wire, too, had he not begun to hang right inside the final furlong as he began to feel the pinch, and that left the door open for Rich Strike to grab the advantage close home, the favourite eventually running on under Anthony Delpech to beat the courageous Royal Rocker by half-a-length.

These two ultimately had the race much to themselves, with Keat’s Drift 2.25 lengths further away in third and 1.25 lengths in front of Danish Silver.  Askari made late headway to be beaten a total of 4.5 lengths into fifth, but Orbit War failed to really quicken and finished sixth, six lengths behind the winner.

For most winners of this race, the Christmas Handicap forever remains the biggest success of their careers and Rich Strike doesn’t automatically give the impression of being much above this class himself.  He was only half-a-kilo above the bottom weight, and he enjoyed the run of the race from the 1 draw, but 1600m is perhaps his minimum distance and he is very effective over 1800/1900m,  which is the top of his range according to Delpech, who did add that “there was a lot still left in the tank.”

Rich Strike looks well short of being one of Mike de Kock’s principal hopes for even bigger glories in 2011 – although one never knows with his wizard trainer – and it seems unlikely that he was ever considered a serious candidate for his stable’s raiding party to Dubai for the forthcoming Carnival, but he is a useful and game handicapper.  A four-year-old gelding, the son of Strike Smartly is the fifth foal and fourth winner of Al Mufti mare Circle Of Gold, who won two races over 1600/1800m.  Circle Of Gold in turn is a half sister to champion filly Enchanted Garden, and a full or half sister to three other Stakes winners, so there is plenty of pedigree here.  Bred at Ascot Stud and bought for a very substantial R1.1 million at the 2008 National Yearling Sale, Rich Strike has won four times from 13 starts and earned R317 550 for owner Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum.

Christmas Hcp (SAf-G3) (12/26)

Clairwood, South Africa, December 26, R184.000, 1600m, turf, good, 1.36.89 (CR 1.33.16).

RICH STRIKE (SAf), 52.5, ch g 4, Strike Smartly (CAN) – Circle Of Gold (SAF) by Al Mufti. Owner Sheikh Mohamed bin Khalifa al Maktoum; breeder Ascot Stud (SAf); trainer M F de Kock; jockey A Delpech (R122.000)

Royal Rocker (AUS), 53.0, ch g 4, Rock Of Gibraltar (IRE) – Daring Madonna by Darshaan (GB)

Keat’s Drift (SAf), 59.5, b c 7, National Emblem (SAf) – Life’s Romance (SAF) by Northern Guest

Margins: ½, 2¼, 1¼

Also ran: Danish Silver (SAf) 55.5, Askari (SAf) 52.0, Orbit War (ARG) 55.5, Jet Man (SAf) 52.5, Duntroon (SAf) 54.0, Safwan (AUS) 58.5, Fisani (SAf) 60.0, Directorate (SAf) 53.0, Dance With Mikey (SAf) 52.5, Bouquet-Garni (SAf) 58.0, Dellotto (SAf) 58.5, Eight Street (AUS) 59.5, Dynamite Mike (SAf) 58.0

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