While dreams, omens and lucky numbers will no doubt still play a part for many casual observers when selecting a likely winner of today’s R2,5 million Gr1 J&B Met, under the modern conditions of the race, we are looking at what is practically a weight-for-age scenario. That rather unromantically and predictably points us in the direction of one of the top two winning it. All rather straightforward. But many will beg to differ and it is bound to be more dramatic than that.
The conditions of the race may suggest one scientific view. But opinion and personal allegiances will have pundits looking at the race from varying angles. It is just what we do.
SA champion trainer Justin Snaith throws the kitchen sink at the race – even after the numbing withdrawal of his top horse Legislate on Wednesday.
Can Brett Crawford put the last two Mets behind him? Will Geoff Woodruff’s visiting attack be too strong? An unlikely sixth victory for Mike Bass with his unfancied duo? Maybe a fairytale icebreaker for veteran Karl Neisius or young gun Luyola Mxothwa? Or even a small Phillipi trainer like Stan Elley rocketing to stardom?
Weighted To Win
The modern evolution of the Cape’s flagship race has seen a streamlining of the complex conditions of years past into the present cleaner small print.
With Saturday’s 2kg weight range from the top-rated Futura (116) to the lesser lights of Helderberg Blue (98) on the other end of the equine status scale, it probably makes plenty of sense to stick with the athletes that have earned their stripes.
While there are 13 other serious horses in the race, the 2015 Met was sadly plagued by a dark cloud of uncertainty around the participation of SA Horse Of The Year, Legislate.
The outstanding son of Dynasty had always been something of a capital newsmaker.Those extraordinary memories of the 2014 Vodacom Durban July finish are still fresh in our minds.
He shook our world again with a magnificent 4yo debut win in the Green Point Stakes in November last year, but then knocked his fans cold with a dreadful run in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate, when running last behind Futura.
Now at least we don’t have to concern ourselves with the uncertainty any longer.
Ready To Rock
Trainer Brett Crawford wants this race. He has missed it the last two years with fancied horses.
Dynasty’s good son Futura certainly provides him with his best chance yet.
The 2014 Gr1 Champions Cup winner won a cracker in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate.
Off a slow pace, he mowed them down and will be even better over the 2000m. In form heavyweight Bernard Fayd’herbe adds further value.
After his Met gallop, Crawford said: “He stretched well and his wind is nice and clear. I’m not unhappy with the draw. Being in the middle gives us options on how to ride him.”
Gauteng visitor Geoff Woodruff has had a great season and he is in town with a three-pronged attack that any yard would be proud of.
“The draws are satisfactory and I don’t foresee any problems. The chief protagonists all have good draws and it will really help if the pace is on,” said Geoff after the Met gallops, where his trio performed smartly as a unit on show.
Piere Strydom’s mount Louis The King must be considered the Woodruff stable elect.
The Sansui Summer Cup winner came on like an express train in the Queen’s Plate and will be well suited to the extra 400m. He is back to best after a midyear slump in KZN and Strydom is the man for the moment.
Killua Castle came close to beating Louis The King in the Summer Cup and then booked his Met berth with a smooth win in the Gr3 London News Stakes. He is drawn at 10 and gives young rider Akash Aucharuz his first ride.
He is a good solid horse who stays 2000m well and has an ability to relax and run. He will love Kenilworth – certainly on paper.
Gavin Lerena was pleased with Tellina’s Queen’s Plate fifth and rides the best drawn (3) of the Woodruff trio.
The son of Silvano will really need to lift his game and has not won a race in over a year. His last visit to the winner’s enclosure was way back in January of 2014 in the Gr3 London News Stakes.
Sean Tarry saddles the old man of the Met in the 7yo Gold Onyx.
A cracking fast-finishing third in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate would have been his passport into the Met. But he didn’t have luck in the draws.
“I’m disappointed. A bad draw’s a bad draw, but he galloped well. We just have to believe in his run in the Queen’s Plate run and take our chances,” said Tarry after Thursday’s gallops and draws.
While trainer Justin Snaith has been in the spotlight over Legislate’s participation, we don’t want to imagine the Met without the balance of his squad.
The comeback kid Jet Explorer was in the wars after a shocking accident in the Gold Challenge in June but has bounced back well.
He has pulled the pole position draw and could be running into place money. His Queen’s Plate fourth was a decent run and his 2014 third place LQP finish behind Capetown Noir proved that was no flash in the pan.
Snaith said that he was ‘very happy’ with recent Gr2 Premier Trophy winner Dynamic’s 6 draw.
“He’ll just need to tuck in behind a few. He’s doing very well and he and Arion are very much the dark horses in the race.”
The lightly tried Dynamic dictated matters from gun to tape in the Premier Trophy and Sean Cormack rides him again.
“The 2 draw helps a lot and Arion will have the run of the race from that position,” said Justin of his Gr2 Peninsula Handicap winner.
This fellow may well have found form at the right time and his Gr1 Derby placing behind stablemate Legislate is an indicator of his ability.
One of the longshots of the Snaith sextet is the Jallad gelding Johnny Rockets, who failed to show when 9,95 lengths back in the Peninsula Handicap last time.
“Johnny Rockets pulled his shoes off in that last start and he was absolutely cripple, so I’d draw a line through that run. We’ve put shoes back on him and he’s doing well,” said Snaith, while admitting that the owners were really just ‘having fun’ with this Met runner.
In The News
The only Met supplementary entry is Justin Snaith’s Silvano gelding Astro News, who has his 47th run on Saturday. It is frankly difficult getting excited about his prospects. But promising rider Luyola Mxothwa will be thrilled as he has his first ride in the big race.
After drawing 11, Justin said: “It’s not ideal. It will be hard for him from that draw, so we’ll have to make a decision where to place him. We may go handy.”
Astro News, who has only won at Gr3 level at best, has walked the Met road previously – he finished a meritorious 1,95 lengths behind Igugu in 2012.
But he is probably beyond his best.
King Of Swing
Dean Kannemeyer’s Power King has been a vastly improved racer since his gelding, and after going down in the final leg of the Winter Triple Crown, the son of Silvano has enjoyed a decent summer.
He is a kilo better off with Arion after his 1,25 length second in the Peninsula Handicap and Karl Neisius has declared himself very happy with the gelding’s constant improvement. He has never been far off the best and Neisius has the experience to pounce if the big guns go silent.
His trainer said after the draws: “We breezed him over 800m and couldn’t have asked for a better draw. Everything’s been going the right way and I’ll have him spot on for next week.”
Stan Elley sends out the never-say-die Punta Arenas.
The son of Silvano has been on the fringes of stardom his entire career, without breaking through.
He ran a great third behind Hill Fifty Four in last year’s Met and could repeat the feat this year.
He ran a decent fifth in the Peninsula Handicap after missing his previous run. But decent without fireworks is what we have come to expect from him.
His part- owner James Drew said after the draw ceremony:
“This poor horse never gets a good draw. Perhaps it’s a good thing – if we had a good draw, he might race too handy. It’s all up to Aldo Domeyer now.”
If there is one man that knows how to train a Met winner, it is veteran Milnerton conditioner Mike Bass.
He saddles two relative unfancied sorts in Paterfamilias and Helderberg Blue – a pair that set their owners back close on R5 million when originally purchased as babies.
A disappointed Bass said after the draw ceremony:“They’re doing everything they can to make it harder for my horses, but we’ve been here before. It would have been nice to draw well, but I’ve got the two worst draws. We’ll have to drop them in. A good pace will help, but I’ve got two dark horses anyway. Somehow or other we will overcome it. It will be a bit harder, but I still think we can get into the frame.”
Paterfamilias has never won anything of note in his four victories and is Gr2 placed at best.
Sidelined with an injury for a lengthy period, he returned for preps in the Premier Trophy and the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate.
Neither run suggests that he will trouble his more illustrious opposition on Saturday.
Better In Blue
Helderberg Blue looks the better of the Bass pair.
The son of Jet Master had his behavioural issues early on but has improved his commitment and conduct through gelding. He has plenty of ability and even at the peak of his personal problems, managed a decent fourth in the Gr1 Investec Cape Derby behind Legislate.
His two prep placed runs – a slightly flattering second to Dynamic in the Gr2 Premier Trophy and fourth behind Arion in the Peninsula Handicap- will certainly see him fit to do battle.
But has he got the heart? That vital organ was not too apparent in either of his last two starts and blaming pace is not going to make young Grant Van Niekerk popular again on Saturday.
As is the case so often, the pace will be key to the outcome of the race. The Cape Crawl is a well known local habit and hopefully will not come into play.
The Snaiths have indicated that they won’t be going out to show the way. Geoff Woodruff probably needs a pace most of everybody.
It should be a great tactical struggle. At the end of the day, it is about who passes the post first.
We feel Futura and Louis The King will fight it out.