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Candice Robinson

Hot Water Bottles and Woolly Hats

Candice Robinson (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Candice Robinson (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Candice Robinson is nearing the end of her first official season at the helm of Bass Racing. Having been part of the team for as long as she has, it was perhaps not unexpected that her first year should have been a success, but even by normal standards she was out of the starting blocks early, celebrating her first Gr1 under her own name in the 2017 Majorca Stakes and now saddles three runners for the 2017 Vodacom Durban July.

In an industry that is not always very forgiving of the fairer sex, Candice has not taken a single misstep or looked vaguely unsure even for a moment. She simply started as she meant to go on, which, in fact is what she had been doing during Mike’s illness, and as the season has worn on, she has slipped into her new role with both ease and grace.

On this particular visit, the Cape was still pulling itself from the last of the grip of the winter storm, and although the sky was clear and the sun was shining, it did feel a very long way away. Nevertheless, no matter how often one goes, it’s always fun visiting block T3, Koeberg Road. I count the little touches that make it special – the Pocket Power plaque by the front door, the collection of dogs on the sofa and particularly the fact that no-one ever seems in the least bit surprised to see you and you are simply accepted and waved in as part of the family.

Business as Usual

The team is down at the ring, overseeing the morning’s work and as I make my way to the track, I marvel – as I always do – at the wonderfully calm and efficient atmosphere. The stable block is its usual hive of activity. It is a racing yard – and a top one at that – but although horses – and people – come and go in the usual businesslike manner, there is a gentle, relaxed feel to all of it. The horses pop their heads over the doors as one passes and it’s hard to remember that most of these are Gr1 athletes, rather than friendly competition horses.

I find Candice with a cluster of dogs and a little knot of visitors under the palm tree. She’s wrapped up with a woolly hat and a hot water bottle under her jacket and greets me with a broad smile.

Horses and riders are sent off with their various instructions and the conversation ebbs and flows around the work sets. Has she enjoyed her first season? “Well, I can’t complain. If I did, I think I’d be a bit hard on myself,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. “I’ve got a good team of people, which always makes a difference and we’ve got some nice horses and they’re all doing pretty well.” Confirming the old adage that good horses give one a reason to get up in the morning, she says frankly, “I think it might be different if we didn’t have the horses we do, but good horses definitely make it more enjoyable.” Of course, the good ones don’t just arrive by themselves and Candice has certainly inherited her father’s eye in terms of finding the nice ones and acknowledges that she is happy with their haul from the sales. “There’s always lots to look forward to,” she says happily.

Marinaresco

Marinaresco – last year’s ‘best 3yo by a distance’

Of course the main purpose of the visit is to discuss their July arsenal, which is headed by the gutsy little Silvano gelding, Marinaresco, dubbed ‘the best 3yo in SA by a distance” by Alistair Cohen after last year’s July run. Bred by Mauritzfontein by champion sire Silvano out of a daughter of champion sire Fort Wood, Marinaresco races in the interests of Messrs MW Bass, F Green, Bryn Ressell and Marsh Shirtliff and was a R1,3 million purchase on the 2014 BSA National Yearling Sale. Despite being a little on the small side, Mike Bass declared that he “couldn’t find anything much better.” He did them proud, winning two legs of the Cape Winter Series before heading to Durban to tilt at the July. It was a rather unorthodox move from the Bass yard, which seldom runs 3yo’s in the July, but again, he justified the faith placed in him by only just being pipped for second and then added a Gr1 cherry in the form of the Mike & Carol Bass Champions Cup to top a stellar season and bring down the curtain on Mike’s career with an emotional flourish.

He kicked off his 4yo season with a 3rd place finish over 1200m at Kenilworth last October and was less than half a length behind dual Horse of the Year Legal Eagle in the Green Point Stakes. However, his Queen’s Plate and Met runs earned him a variety of unflattering labels in the press. “He has never run a bad race,” says Candice firmly. “1600m is probably a little on the sharp side for him and he was 3 lengths off them in the Queen’s Plate and in the Met he was 16 lengths off them turning for home and was given an impossible task. It was just not meant to be,” she shrugs philosophically. But that is in the past and her focus is on the job at hand.

“Marinaresco had a little break after the Cape season and we sent him to Durban early to acclimatize. Robert (Fayd’herbe) has done a great job with him and the July will be his third run back after his break.”

Bernard Fayd’herbe has been engaged to ride him in the July and has been figuring out the gears with a gutsy win in the Drill Hall Stakes, before a somewhat puzzling run in the Gold Challenge. Bernard reported that he’d felt something amiss, but the vets couldn’t find anything amiss. It’s hard to resist teasing her that she has the tallest rider on the smallest horse. “That did cross my mind, but Bernard rode a good race in the Drill Hall Stakes. Bernard now has a better feel of him and will ride him differently than he did in the Gold Challenge, especially with top weight. You’ve got to ride him the right way to get the best out of him. He’s a lot like Pocket Power in that he cannot be bustled into the race early on. He likes to be switched off as his greatest asset is his turn of foot and that can only come in to play if he is not travelling too hard early on, so that will be our plan going into this year’s July. He’s obviously got ability and I can tell you that he’s fit and well, but top weight in the July is not easy.”

Nightingale

Nightingales

Nightingale

Nightingale, the second runner for the stable, also comes with a bit of provenance as she was also bred by the Slacks and is raced in partnership by Mauritzfontein and Wilgerbosdrift. Similarly to Marinaresco, she is also bred on the Silvano-Fort Wood cross. In addition, Nightingale provided Candice with her first Gr1 success in this year’s Majorca Stakes. The 4yo filly has also had a short break after the Cape season, and since arriving in Durban has had a good pipe opener in the Gr3 Poinsettia Stakes, finishing 3.6 lengths off The Secret Is Out at Scottsville and then put up a cracking run behind Just Sensual in the Gr2 Tibouchina Stakes at Greyville. The July will also be the third run of her Durban campaign. Anthony Delpech is the retained rider for Mary and Jessica Slack, he knows the filly well and will be in the hot seat on July day.

Candice comments, “She’s a filly that’s really improved this last season from Cape Town to now. She’s a lovely scopey filly. It wasn’t cut and dried whether we’d run in the July, but she had a really good run in the Tibouchina Stakes which is short of her best – and she raced wide all the way,” she notes. “She didn’t draw well in the Garden Province, so we decided to take our chances in the July. Nightingale has won a Gr1 already and Mary (Slack) is keen, so we thought we’d take our chances. I think it’s a very open race this year and she’s got as much chance as everybody else. We haven’t got anything to lose, so we’ll try. She’s well.”

Horizon

Politician Stakes winner, Horizon

Originally named Shining Knight, the Maine Chance Farms-bred colt now known as Horizon was always destined to be a talking horse. As a son of champion sire Dynasty, out of a full sister to Arlington Millions winner and champion sire Silvano, he was one of the most exciting yearlings to be offered on auction in South Africa and duly broke the SA sales record when he was knocked down for an eye-watering R5,2 million at the 2015 CTS Cape Premier Yearling Sale. Horizon races in the interests of Piet and Vivia du Toit’s Hunkydory Investments (Pty) Ltd.

Candice explains, “We had originally planned to run him in the Champions Cup at the end of the season, but with Captain America running there now, it doesn’t look like an ideal race for him at the weights, so we’ve decided to run in the July. He’s a decent horse and ran a decent race in the Daily News at level weights with Edict Of Nantes and Al Sahem. He’s been assigned 53kgs for the July, which means he’ll be receiving weight from both of them, so we’ll take our chances.” Commenting that it is phenomenal for the Du Toits to have a July runner with their very first purchase, she agrees, “They’re obviously lucky, so I’m happy to ride on their luck!”

Asked how she is feeling about her first attempt at the July, particularly as it comes in her very first season of training, Candice gives a wry smile. “To be honest, I didn’t even think about it until someone mentioned it in the newspaper. I’m looking forward to the July. It doesn’t feel any different to last year. There’s always pressure to win these races, but you need to be good enough, you need to be good enough on the day and then you need luck. If you can get all three then you’ve got a chance.”

One gets the feeling she’s relishing the challenge.

2017 Vodacom Durban July

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