A Hat For The July?

A bit of racing whimsy

The Black Stallion

The Black Stallion

Supplementary entries for the 2017 Vodacom Durban July closed on Tuesday, 9 May 2017, but not before the entry of a ‘mystery’ horse from the Michael Azzie yard, a big, black 3yo Argentinian colt named Hat Puntano.

It is shades of my favourite film, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Black Stallion and given that the July is something of a crazy race in which anything can, and usually does happen, it feels strangely appropriate.

Hat In The Ring

Unlike The Black Stallion, our ‘mystery horse’ doesn’t come out of nowhere and he does have a documented history. Quite an exciting one as it happens.

Hat Puntano (Arg) is a dual G1 winner in Argentina. Bred by Haras La Biznaga, he is by Hat Trick out of the Bernstein mare, Stormy Pursuer. Hat Puntano has had four career starts to date, racing in the interests of Las Monjitas. He was trained by Carlos D Etchechoury for his first two starts and then transferred to Juan J Etchechoury for the last two of his starts in Argentina.

Robin Bruss of Northfields Bloodstock was responsible for brokering the purchase and furnished the details of the colt’s career. Hat Puntano broke his maiden by 16 lengths on debut, beating a 13 horse field over 7 furlongs on the San Isidro turf on 30 April 2016. His second start was in the Gran Premio Gran Criterium, a G1 contest for 3yo colts and geldings over a mile, where he exhibited an impressive turn of foot to come from last to win by 2 lengths in a time of 1 min 34.66. After changing stables to Juan Etchechoury, he ran in the Gran Premio Estrellas, a mile G1 contest on dirt at Palermo on 25 June 2016. Unfortunately he didn’t seem to act on the surface, and finished 6th. His final start in Argentina was on 30 July 2016, in the G1 Gran Premio Clasico Dos Mil Guineas (Argentine 2000 Guineas) on turf in which he disposed of the 8 horse field by 5 lengths. It was an impressive performance and good enough to prompt his purchase as a possible 2017 Triple Crown candidate.

Robin commented, “His style of racing is very exciting. His sire, Hat Trick, is a champion miler by the legendary Sunday Silence and a horse I happen to know very well. Hat Trick is a dual G1 winner and broke the track record for a mile when he won the 2005 G1 Kyoto Mile Championship of Japan in a time of 1:32.10. The record still stands.”

Asked whether there was any significance to the name, Robin explains that Hat Trick shuttles between Gainesway and Argentina and the Argentinians have a naming convention whereby the Hat Trick colts are named ‘Hat-something’ and the fillies are called ‘something-Trick’, “so there are an army of Hats and an army of Tricks,” he laughs.

July ghosts

The coal black colt is in the care of Randjesfontein trainer Michael Azzie, who has had a year which could best be described as ‘challenging’. But Mike is also one of our most colourful turf characters and again, it feels somewhat appropriate that the colt should be trained by him. Clearly quietly excited about his charge, Mr Azzie said, “He has a real stallion’s pedigree and the idea is for him to hopefully do well here and then go to stud.” The horse was imported last November and has been registered to Drakenstein Stud (Nom. Mrs G. Rupert) and Mr Jaime and Mrs Mariza Vilela.

The colt has not raced since leaving Argentina, which has added an additional air of intrigue to the July entry. There is also debate about the assigned MR of 113 which, in echoes of the furore over Abashiri in 2016, means Azzie’s 3yo faces the prospect of being lumped with a massive weight. Mr Azzie has expressed doubts as to whether they will go through to final acceptances with that rating or choose discretion over valour and opt for the Gold Challenge and Champions Cup before a tilt at the Cape Summer Season.

“As far as the July is concerned, we are chasing the eight ball as he hasn’t raced since last July. The handicappers have whacked him a bit, so we’re in a similar position to last year where Abashiri was giving away weight to the rest of the field, so we’ll have to have a serious think.” Azzie has indicated that Hat Puntano would be aimed at a Progress Plate on the Highveld at the end of May.

Shared ownership

There is an old joke that a racehorse is the strongest horse in the world because it can take so many people for a ride at the same time and that is probably true. However, it doesn’t only extend to people with a betting ticket on its nose. Anyone who has ever worked with a horse or in some way helped or contributed to its career or well-being automatically starts to feel a little proprietorial over it, with everyone from the feed merchant to the farrier claiming a little of the reflected glory when it does well. We’ve all been there. I was drafted in as an emergency driver to chauffeur Heavenly Blue and a buddy back from a beach outing last year and when he won the SA Classic, you can rest assured there was a tiny bit of me that felt just a little responsible for the entire thing. Because one doesn’t have to own a horse to feel as though you do.

Simply becoming a fan will get you a long way there. And when they canter down to the start, they take a little piece of you with them. We’ve all heard punters referring to the horses they’ve bet on as ‘my horse’. It’s the same thing. I read a lovely piece on this recently that says, “For many, many people, the racehorse does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He flies when our bodies are broken; he defies his own odds; he rises above class and politics; sometimes, he achieves fame by sheer force of will. And you don’t forget a horse that gives you wings.”

Of course those wings do come at a price. They require that you lay your emotions on the line and genuinely invest in a horse, which means taking the downs with the ups and sticking with it regardless. However, when that investment pays off, well, as Jane Smiley once said, it feels as though Heaven has reached down and touched us personally.

At the end of the day, we’re all gamblers. Whether we’re breeding, buying or standing at the betting window. And it’s perhaps what makes racing folk such a special breed.

July dreams

The 12 scratchings leave a total of 47 horses still in contention and the second declaration stage closes at 11:00 on Monday, 29 May 2017.

There is a lovely quote that reads, “Fishing is worth any amount of effort and any amount of expense to people who love it, because in the end you get such a large number of dreams per fish”. Maybe he’ll run, maybe he won’t. But in the meantime, it’s nice to dream. What price a ‘Hat’ for the July?

2017 Vodacom Durban July

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