MR90 Handicap – Vaal (turf) on Thursday

Titano To The Test

Titano – course and distance winner

With the Vodacom July two days away, only hardened punters will have the inclination to concentrate on the turf meeting at the Vaal on Thursday. They may get lucky, as there are some interesting opportunities for doubles and trebles going from here on to the Big Race on Saturday, writes KAREL MIEDEMA.

Main event on the afternoon is race seven, an MR 90 handicap over a mile up the straight. With only eight runners carded there must be serious concern about the likely pace early on. The contest could easily degenerate into a sprint home and destroy this reasoned preview in a blink. Perhaps Michael Azzie will lend a helping hand, with front running Strike Master. Let’s take them one-by-one.

Top weighted Echo Hawk is a course and distance winner, who earned a high rating last season as a 3yo. Lightly raced this term, he hasn’t been anywhere near the 3yo form and it’s impossible to know what to expect. He’s best left alone for now.

The Knock On Wood x Delpech combination is a potent one, the horses last two wins coming in the hands of Anthony. Knock On Wood’s form is admirable (also with other jockeys), which is no doubt his downfall as the handicapper doesn’t let go. The 3yo has gone up ten points in his last four starts. Still, he should be thereabouts.

Geoff Woodruff and Felix Coetzee team up with House Of Wax. The combination was first past the post over 1400m at this track early in May, running to his best rating while blinkered first time. Taken to Scottsville two weeks later, he was well beaten over 1400m in an Allowance Plate, running some way below form. Assuming that he’ll be back to best this time he must have a big chance.

Titano has come into his own since trying more than sprints and has twice won over 1800m at this track in his last five starts. He reverted to sprinting last time out in a Conditions race, when well beaten, but still putting up a respectable rating. That suggests he’s still improving. Now back to what seems a more suitable distance he could be the one to beat.

The Happy Heart is Geoff Woodruff’s second runner, and another with good form. He won his last start, over 1400m here. Knock On Wood had beaten him by a good length three runs back in April, for which The Happy Heart is now 1.5kg better off. He might turn the tables.

Spectaboolous seems to alternate good efforts with much lesser ones. If the trend continues, a poor run is due here. His last effort was respectable, though, and with a repeat of that his chances certainly aren’t hopeless.

Strike Master has won up this straight while setting the pace, in a 1200m race. Michael Azzie is never scared to take matters in his own hands when there are doubt about the pace and Strike Master may well try to take advantage of the circumstances here. He has consistent recent form and this is only the second time he goes beyond sprint distances.

The third runner from the Woodruff stable is 5yo Carrelli, who appears to have soundness issues. There may be other things, too, since he failed to corner at Turffontein last time, and wasn’t ridden out.

In the hope that there will at least be a reasonable early pace, we expect Strike Master and Titano to fight this out. If there’s no early pace it’ll be anybody’s race, and the effects of weight will be less than intended – which should benefit Knock On Wood most.

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