With the national interest and focus on sand racing this week, Durbanville provides the turf highlight with a nine-race programme at the rustic country venue on Wednesday.
While there is ample pace in evidence in the MR90 Divided Handicap, Amber Palace would have been an automatic first choice, but has drawn wide. That complicates the issue.
Justin Snaith trains the very capable Amber Palace, one of two Dynasty progeny in the race, and the Phillipi conditioner will probably be donning a collar and tie for this meeting, expecting a post-race interview commitment or two in the course of the Cape spring afternoon.
His 4yo Amber Palace is at his best over the trip and looks a worthy likely favourite with Bernard Fayd’Herbe up – it is just the draw that concerns us a little and the presence of a colleague who often has Snaith’s measure.
That man is Cape Champion trainer Joey Ramsden, who churns out the Durbanville winners with monotonous regularity. Ramsden prepares the Casey Tibbs gelding Bronco Buster, for his leading patrons, Ingrid and Markus Jooste.
The Klawervlei bred 4yo has won two of his eleven starts, and showed the minor indication of a likely fair sort, when following up on his maiden win in February, with victory in an MR 77 Handicap a week later.
He went off the boil slightly thereafter , but has bounced back with forward efforts at his last two outings with two seconds, and a third win appears inevitable, and only a matter of time.
That said, the flashing white socks often operate on one gear at the end of Bronco Buster’s fuel tank and his one-paced plod in the final stages are of some concern.
And that is where Amber Palace may have the edge, with his ability to accelerate and kick on.
The Snaith charge will be no push-over and his last win was registered over the track and trip, when he accounted for the older Jet Into The Wind by one length at level weights in an MR 87 Handicap. He ran a cracker under Denies Lee when finishing just 2,05 lengths behind General Assembly in an MR 90 Handicap over 1200m last time. Kambrook may have his measure , as Amber Palace gave him 2kgs there and finished 1,85 lengths behind. And now has to concede 5kg. But Amber Palce is a different horse over the 1400m and we are siding with him rather than the older moody Bass runner.
Yogas Govender’s Marchant, the second Dynasty in the race, has been rested 96 days after a Durban Champions Season campaign that saw him winning one of his three starts. That was an MR 86 Handicap over 1400m at Greyville where he caught the eye with a smart win over the flashy Tarry horse, Always Al.
Marchant ran a fair third at his last start, and he is obviously held in fair regard by his connections, who have made a booming start to the new season. He won on debut at this track at 50-1 and Brandon Morgenrood rides him from a 6 draw. His touch of class may prove the decider that he is the value in the race if coming out sound and fit, and must be included.
In a race brimming with pacy sorts, Alan Higgins’ long-striding giant Great Kali, jumps next to the rail and is always a dangerous front-runner.
He did run a fair fourth in a small field last time, and while the Handicapper probably caught up to him, he should be getting a little more competitive and must be considered dangerous depending how the race pans out, and if he is allowed to bowl along out front.
Piet Steyn sends out two very fit campaigners.
Next to Exploration, the old boy of the ten horse field, Steyn’s 7yo Doowaley gelding Pergamon Alter has been edging back to form with running-on thirds at his last two starts.
The fitment of blinkers at the age of seven, may have ignited his form resurgence and while he steps up quite considerably in class here, he has won at MR 95 level, so will not be blushing in the preliminaries on Wednesday. Grant Van Niekerk gets the chance to upset the younger horses and show that one can teach an old dog new tricks.
Master Barry is a four-time winning son of Jet Master who is well-suited to Durbanville as a strong galloping front-runner. His last outing was a patent waste of effort as his saddle slipped in running and his young apprentice rider, Girish Goomamy, was unable to assist him as he drifted out in the Kenilworth home run to finish some fourteen lengths behind. He gets stronger guidance atop courtesy of Felix Coetzee, and may respond by putting in some more effort.
He has not won since September last year, and could probably be labelled something of an overall disappointment though, and should be easy to back at double figure win odds, for those who may fancy a place bet.
Mike Bass has two runners, and Karl Neisius throws a leg over the 6yo Jet Master gelding Kambrook, who showed a heartening return to form at his last start. He was available at any price over a distance probably thought to be short of his best, but charged through late from some way back to run a cracker to what we have already observed is the capable General Assembly, in a better than average MR 90 Handicap over 1200m. He is moody though and he is 3kgs better off with Amber Palace – but can he maintain that?
Kambrook has not won at Durbanville, and is not the most enthusiastic and consistent fellow around. But there are aspects in his favour, and these include fitness, a good draw and the services of Neisius.
The second Bass representative is Peregrine Power, who appears to have real soundness issues and would probably enjoy this a bit further. He has not won in ages and would be something of a shock winner.
Halfway To Heaven is the only member of the fairer sex in the field and the fourth of the Jet Master quartet.
Eric Sands’ charge comes in on a handy galloping weight from a good draw, but it is worrying that she was withdrawn from her scheduled last start two weeks ago as a result of an abscess. She won her previous outing over the Kenilworth 1200m in an MR 73 Handicap by 3,50 lengths after shortening from 10-1 to 4-1.
She is lightly raced as a two-time winner from eight starts, but may be good enough to earn place money.
Andrew Fortune is an interesting engagement to partner the largely formless Exploration for Mike Stewart.The son of Sportsworld has won five races and can run on his day. He has his first try at Durbanville at his 31st career run but has shown a worrying lack of commitment and enthusiasm of late. Fortune, as we are well aware, is capable of remedying these shortcomings.
We have suggested that there is plenty of pace in the race, which should serve in some way to negate Amber Palace’s poor outside draw. If things go according to plan, Bronco Buster and Great Kali could be going head to head late, with Amber Palace producing his kick. But Marchant may prove to be the joker in the pack from an in-form yard.