Have we seen the Horse of the Year?

Horse of the Year? Dancewiththedevil grabs gold

Fairytales and freaks. In the nicest possible way, these are two vital components of any good horseracing story. The modestly bred Dancewiththedevil  made a huge statement for the fairer sex and the ordinary and unfashionable when she swept through wide on the outside to beat eleven male rivals in the  R700 000 Gr1 Rising Sun Gold Challenge. Sadly we won’t see her in the Vodacom Durban July. The only prospective July runner to emerge with any credit from this race was Joey Ramsden’s Bravura, who stayed on bravely for second.

The Triple Crown may surely count in her favour but Igugu will have to win the July to scoop  the coveted label  as Dancewiththedevil now surely stands as our firm favourite to scoop the SA Horse Of The Year title. Imagine it – two fillies getting the tongues wagging and not a boy in sight. And on a bright Durban Monday afternoon,  even a 13 saddle-cloth couldn’t stop this ball of fire from doing what she does so damn well. She has now won her seventh race from twelve starts and earned an unlikely R2 million. That’s not bad going for a filly who won her first start at the Vaal in a Maiden 1400M event exactly a year ago.

The four year old’s  owner, trainer and breeder St John D Gray, in his inimitable laconic manner, will be the first to admit that the breeding decision that led to the creation of this freakishly  brilliant racehorse was hardly science. The stallion Modus Vivendi was trained by Mike De Kock once upon a time and was imported to this country by former Golden Acres based Craig Ramsay.The son of Zafonic now stands in the beautiful Franschoek valley at Hannie Botha’s relatively unknown Mont Venteux Stud for a service fee of R20 000. Dance’s dam Emperor’s Dance, a daughter of Caesour, wasn’t exactly a slouch – she won three times over 1000m from eight starts.

The race was uneventful with the striking  grey  Blue Tiger making the running from his stable-mate Castlethorpe with Bravura and Big City Life in close attendance. At the 400m marker Karl Neisius gave Castlethorpe his head and he pinched a three length advantage. His effort was short-lived though as Bravura looked menacing with Dancewiththedevil coming from stone last to make up fifteen lengths and win going away. Bravura did his July prospects no harm with a  good second while Bulsara ran an eye-catching third, streaking through late. The list of casualties is a long one. Past Master never kicked on. Big City Life faded out to last. Captain’s Wild may have found it a bit short. Kavanagh, even without blinkers, wasn’t sighted. Castlethorpe showed pace but from being a ‘Derby’ horse early in his career, he had every chance and was outrun late in a fair performance at weight-for-age.

July Storm - Super Storm thunders home

Mike Bass is on record as labelling Lammerskraal Stud’s Super Storm the ‘pick’ of his July nominees, and the R184 000 Gr 3 Jet Airways Cup Trial run over 1800m was a triumph for the wily trainer. Bass  trained the exacta and had one or two of his July doubts and imponderables cleared up quite concisely.  Veteran rider  Karl Neisius drove the Rakeen gelding Super Storm through to win easily from the improved Brown Penny with Galileo’s Destiny a disappointing third.  Neisius said his mount, who has flattered to deceive on occasion,  had won ‘readily’ and was a ‘progressive horse.’

Trainer Justin Snaith put his foot in it but was all smiles  after he broke the stable’s mini drought on the East Coast,  when the molten- hot Felix Coetzee kept Hassen Adams’ Captain  Al filly Fragrant Al going to win the R184 000 Rising Sun Gr 2 Tibouchina Stakes over 1450m. The unlucky horse of the race was  the Australian-bred Happy Archer, who flew late under Gavin Lerena and did everything but win.  Mike Bass’ Covenant ran a moderate third.  Snaith only has eight horses in his Champions Season raiding party, and has had a quiet time of it. He said that Fragrant Al had transferred up to Clairwood after being withdrawn  when drawing badly just a few weeks back in Cape Town. This statement, while the truth, makes a mockery of the draw after acceptance policy in Cape Town and Snaith may find himself up for censure in terms of the rules!

Heaven Scent - Fragrant Al is all heart

After being humbled by Anthony Delpech in the first race, Anton Marcus opened his account in the Zee TV Gatecrasher Stakes over 1450m when he forced Rio Carnival  up to hold off an eyecatching late run from the Ivan Moore-trained Fighting Warrior. The race was significant for the overwhelming dominance of Australian Sires – a Hussonet winning it from a Magic Albert with the Stratum colt,   Ransom Of Choice in third. That’s quite something!

The R150 000 Var  Syndicate sponsored Durban Dash turned into something of an anti-climax after the withdrawal of the Cape champion, What A Winter. In terms of a spectacle it was no contest with the Paul Peter trained Magico, galloping clear of his six rivals to win unextended.  It was Marcus again as this time he just  posed in the saddle on the Dupont Colt, who beat Furious Dancer with the Port Elizabeth challenger Bob ‘N Weave running a gallant, albeit well beaten, third.  Foreign Sovereign was the best of the Cape horses to run fourth, after winning his last three on the trot. His performance raises a few questions about the supposedly ‘strong’ Cape form but that is a debate for another day. Magico in fact flopped at his only attempt in the Western Cape in the Cape Flying Championship, but this was a trifle weaker and he won well. He  was a shrew Vintage buy at R65 000 and he took his career earnings to over R500 000 with his sixth win from just eleven  starts.

The KZN Winter Chapter Challenge Series finals were  held over the fourth, fifth and sixth races over distances of 1200m, 1600m and 2000m respectively. This initiative is nothing new but is yet another example of mediocre marketing by the racing operator and little or no information exists anywhere.  What  we can guage is that it is designed to bring the smaller owners and trainers with the more average type horses into play. Clairwood resident  Corinne Bestel won the sprint final with the consistent four year old Labeeb gelding, Warwickadale,  who like so many of the Bestel  horses , was bred by Clifton Stud.

Jockey Felix Coetzee then won both the mile and stayer’s final with two brilliant displays of riding. He clinched the 1600m leg on the free-striding Knysna Forest who led from gun to tape and then  kept Duncan Howells’ grey bomber Knight To Remember going in a scrappy finish to beat Muzi Yeni on Badge Of Choice.  A slip of the tongue by Tellytrack presenter Deez Dyanand in the post-race interview would have brought a smile to some. The excitable Deez calling the grey’s part-owner , ‘Mr Graft.’  There was definitely no graft here, and the son of The Sheikh looks on track for a tilt at the Gold Vase. Trainer Paul Gadsby won the R20 000 first trainer’s prize as the series winner, thanks largely to the exploits of his Vodacom Durban July nominee, Black Wing.

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