At long last, KZN racing was given something to really crow about when Zebra Crossing justified the faith of his many followers and won the J&B Met over 2000m. The 4yo is trained by former Zimbabwean Neil Bruss. Zebra Crossing became the first KZN-trained horse to win a Gr 1 out of province since Key Of Destiny in April 2002, and (satellite yards aside) the first to do so anywhere since Battle Maiden (also conditioned by Neil Bruss) in July 2004.
Whether this is the start of better things to come for the province remains to be seen, for beyond the Met hero the cupboard still looks painfully bare, but take nothing away from Bruss and his team. They targeted the Met months ago as the ideal race for Zebra Crossing, and it really is great when a plan comes together.
It was never a great secret that the pace in the 2006 Met was going to be sedate and Summer Cup winner Ilha Da Vitoria, who is best in strongly run races, was fitted with blinkers in a bid to make her race more handy than usual. That must have given a lot of punters a great deal of faith in her chances, because she was heavily supported as race time approached to start joint favourite at 33/10 with Zebra Crossing. There was also a strong flurry of support for Fork Lightening, touching 9/2 from 8/1.
Sure enough, nobody was at all keen to get on with once the gates opened. Zebra Crossing briefly found himself in front, but was soon passed by 2005 Met winner Alastor. Sean Tarry’s veteran set a sedate gallop from Zebra Crossing and Fork Lightening, with Silverpoint pulling hard just in behind the leaders as Ilha Da Vitoria raced well off the action – even with the scoops on. Any dreams that Alastor may have harboured of winning this for a 2nd time soon dissipated when he faded early in the straight. The field fanned out right across the track, and for a while the Met looked very much like the charge of the Light Brigade.
Zebra Crossing, though, had sneaked into a narrow lead racing inside the final 400m.
Fork Lightening fell out of contention around 200m out, and Zebra Crossing was on his way. Challenges came thick and fast, but the KZN raider had a precious advantage which he never looked surrendering over the final furlong, winning by about one length with jockey Jeff Lloyd blowing kisses to the bumper Kenilworth crowd. Ilha Da Vitoria eventually finished second, coming with a storming run wide out, but the bird had flown and she was never going to catch Zebra Crossing. Still, it was a terrific effort by Mike de Kock’s mare, giving 3 kgs to a winner who was much better suited than she was by the way the race panned out.
Great Rhythm stayed on steadily to finish third, with Joshua’s Princess making good headway to take fourth place in her final start before she jets off to continue her career in the USA. Fork Lightening may not have stayed the 2000m which he was trying for the first time, but may also have raced too keenly in first time blinkers. Certainly, Silverpoint fought his rider too hard in the initial stages and could have used a stronger pace, while stable companion Bishops Rock trailed in at the rear after starting slowly – not for the first time in his somewhat disappointing career.
The Met is a race which so often favours horses that have plenty of ability, but that have never won a major race, and Zebra Crossing fell right into that category. That is not to say he will never win another decent prize, for the gelding has always looked like the sort who would only peak at four or even five years of age, and he was a worthy winner here even though he had just about everything go his way. Much was written about the weak field assembled, and the absence of the injured Winter Solstice obviously detracted from its strength in depth, but all of the J&B Met, Durban July, and Summer Cup winners from 2005 did take part. Zebra Crossing may have received chunks of weight from all three, but he beat them comfortably and so what if he isn’t a genuine superstar? Precious few horses are, including most Met winners.
“No one person can do this, it was a team effort” remarked the winning trainer afterwards, thanking everybody from his assistants to the truck driver who drove Zebra Crossing to Cape Town. Of course, Bruss had more reason than even most Met winning trainers to feel like he’d gone to Heaven. Zebra Crossing was bred by his brother Robin Bruss, who is still a co-owner of the gelding along with the trainer’s wife Davina, so “family affair” are words that come readily to mind. God knows what time the celebrations ended, but you can bet your boots that it was a proper Zim style bash!
Full marks also have to go to Jeff Lloyd for a splendidly judged ride. The ruling Mauritian champion has spent the last month or so in Cape Town as part of the Zebra Crossing “team”. It was another feather in the cap of a jockey who has achieved so much in a career which stretches back more than a quarter of a century, but don’t expect him to retire any time soon. There is still the matter of that elusive Durban July winner to take care of first! Zebra Crossing is a son of leading sire Jallad out of the Northfields mare Teclafields, who may have only won one race herself but who has now produced three individual Gr1 winners after the earlier successes at the highest level of Circle Of Life and the recently retired African Lion. She is splendidly bred, though, being a daughter of 1983 Rothmans July winner Tecla Bluff. It would be difficult to argue with Robin Bruss’ post race remark that Teclafields “deserves to be recognised as broodmare-of-the-year.”
Zebra Crossing was sold for R600 000 at the select session of the ’03 National Yearling Sales, but the sale evidently fell through – much to the chagrin of the original purchaser, no doubt. We won’t tell you who the buyer was, but let’s just say that Gauteng’s loss was KZN’s desperately needed gain. Zebra Crossing, apparently described at the time by one leading Cape trainer as the “best looking yearling I have ever seen”, has now won 6 of 14, earning R1.545.125.