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Sean Tarry

History Awaits

Sean Tarry (credit: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Sean Tarry (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

With the 2016 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate safely stashed in the trophy cabinet and a very satisfactory 3 draw secured for the 2016 J&B Met, SA champion trainer Sean Tarry is in an expansive mood.

Stable star, L’Ormarins Queens’ Plate winner and board topper for the forthcoming J&B Met, Legal Eagle, is a 4yo son of Greys Inn out of the six-time winning National Emblem mare Young Sensation. Legal Eagle was bred and raised at Avontuur Stud (whose moniker ‘fine wines and fast horses’ isn’t just lip service!) and the bay colt was a R425,000 purchase at the 2013 National Yearling Sale.

Sean is known for having a good eye for a horse and without spending top dollar, often spots very good horses at very good prices. In that respect, Legal Eagle was something of an anomaly. The average price for a yearling at the 2013 NYS sale was a little under R300k and a R425,000 price tag made Legal Eagle the most expensive Greys Inn on the catalogue, so clearly there was something that marked him as out of the ordinary. Asked what caught his eye about the colt, Sean says, “He was a very good looking individual. He was well balanced, with plenty of scope and he was a fantastic walker. I also trained the mother, so that’s what made me mark him quite highly.” Dam Young Sensation was a National Emblem mare, who Sean remembers as being “pretty straightforward and who was sold to Avontuur out of his yard.

The Grey’s Inns weren’t going for big money, so I’d hoped to spec buy the horse and he went for more than I’d anticipated. Markus (Jooste) happened to be standing near me and asked if I liked the horse. I said, ‘ja, he’s a very smart horse’ and Markus said ‘go and buy him’. It was as simple as that. It was actually quite weird, especially with the lists they have for the sales – the fact that Markus approved him shows it was meant to be.”

Early start

Legal Eagle - may prefer it further

Derby Trial – the biggest challenge was getting in

“Most of my babies go through Sue Bingham (Fairway Pre-Training Centre) and he was good from day one. We thought he was pretty decent all along and quietly fancied him on debut over 1200m at Turffontein, which I think ended up being quite a strong race. Although he didn’t place, he ran on well for Piere Strydom and that was the start.”

With S’manga Khumalo in the saddle, Legal Eagle broke his maiden at the second time of asking over 1600m at the Vaal on 5 March 2015. “We gelded him after his baby run and he was given a bit of time and when we ran him at the Vaal, I saw straightaway that he was starting to deliver on the potential I’d seen initially. It was not the strongest field, so I was quite confident that he would win.”

“I remember speaking to Markus afterwards to say I thought he was decent and we would try and get him into the Derby if possible. I did say that he would have to pass the test in the Derby Trial however, and if he did that it would be all systems go for the Derby. Funnily enough, our biggest challenge in the Derby Trial was getting in, because his rating was so low. We were one of the lucky horses that got in, actually.”

Legal Eagle finished 1.25 lengths second to Scotsnog over the Vaal’s 1700m on 17 March and then it was on to the Listed Derby Trial over 2000m at Turffontein for an easy 2.25 length victory over Stonehenge.

SA Derby

Legal Eagle wins the Gr1 SA Derby

Legal Eagle wins the Gr1 SA Derby

Mayfair Speculators’ stable jockey Anton Marcus took over the ride from the SA Derby which Legal Eagle won by a facile 3 lengths. “Anton gets his pick of the Jooste horses and once we were in the Derby, Anton took over the reins. I remember I had the stable companion – French Navy – who was the favourite, but I knew Legal Eagle would run well and I thought he was French Navy’s danger, because I knew from work at home that that was the case. However, I didn’t expect him to win as easily as that. Considering that his last win was in the handicaps and now he was way out at the weights in terms of a WFA contest, running at level weights with horses rated 110 showed us what he was really capable of.”

The Merit Rating Issue

“Going into the Derby he was rated 89 and I was asked about it by the connections. I said you know I don’t believe his rating, but obviously he can only be rated on exposed form. I thought I knew a bit more about the horse’s ability than what had been shown at that stage and I didn’t believe he was an 89. I guess we now know who was right!”

“He came out of Derby as a MR112 and then in the Gr3 Jubilee Handicap he beat older horses carrying weight and got a rating of 120, however, he did race in the July off his MR112 as the weights had already been published. In the July itself, he then had a few kgs in hand based on his increase in MR and although he was going comfortable and looked at the 300m as though he could win, he found interference and being the long striding horses that he is, he couldn’t recover – although he did try,” he notes.

“So when we start talking about the Queen’s Plate run and his MR being confirmed, you’ve got to keep in mind that we’re talking about a distance short of his best, but I feel he is a 120 all the same. Whether he produced a 120 in the Queen’s Plate I don’t know – I’m not convinced he’s a 120 over a mile, but I’m not doubting his rating.”

4YO Campaign

“When we nominated for the Victory Moon and Summer Cup, the handicapper gave him 61kgs. According to the rules, it should be an 8kg spread and when they elected to give him 61kgs I felt it wasn’t fair play and even though it was only a 1kg difference, we decided to give it a miss. Then because we’d decided against the Summer Cup, we stayed away from the Victory Moon as well.”

Legal Eagle was next seen out in an 1800m Allowance Plate at Turffontein on 10 December 2015, where he finished a short head behind Killua Castle. “He needed the outing and probably the course didn’t do him any favours, but it was a good enough effort. It was a slow run race and he tried to quicken and tried to quicken, but just couldn’t get through the gears. Obviously being the short-priced favourite it would have been lovely to see him win for the public, but it didn’t dampen our feelings to see him get beat and there wasn’t anybody in the team that felt he’d disappointed in any way.”

Cape Town

Sean’s team came to Cape Town in late December. “He wasn’t actually due to travel. We’d wanted to run in the London News, but there was a scare about AHS, so we thought let’s just get him out of Joburg as quick as possible. In the end, I felt maybe it was a blessing. He’s not the most robust horse and I felt that travelling down a bit earlier and giving him a bit of extra time before the racing starts might just suit him. I’ve had reasonable success using the Queen’s Plate as a prep into the Met and even though I’ve only won the Met once, I’ve had a few places and most of my Met runners did come the route of the Queen’s Plate, so I wasn’t unhappy to change the arrangements.”

Monique Mansour has been handling Sean’s Cape Town string and is clearly doing a sterling job. “I’m very pleased with Monique, she’s certainly very conscientious and really takes things to heart which I appreciate.”

Queen’s Plate

2016 L'Ormarins Queen's Plate winner, Legal Eagle

2016 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate winner, Legal Eagle

Were the team expecting the Queen’s Plate win? “I wasn’t, to be honest, but I think everybody including Anton knew that we wouldn’t be surprised if he had to win. But there’s a big difference between being surprised and expecting a fhorse to win. I knew he would run really well and obviously winning was a bonus.”

Although all eyes are focussed on Legal Eagle, Gold Onyx also put in a good Queen’s Plate performance. “I wasn’t disappointed,” says Sean. “He raced wide and only got beat 5 lengths over a distance short of his best – we’ll take that as a prep any day. In last year’s Met, he had to drop out to just about last and he ran a great race to finish 2nd which was a great run. He needs things to go his way and it’s going to be tough from a 15 draw, but he’s a game old man. He’s certainly showed his liking for the city and he doesn’t lay down easily!”

Legal Eagle’s Met Chances

“At this stage of the game, everything is on track with our prep and everything has gone well. However, there is still a while to go and things need to go right and I’m mindful of that, so ja, we just have to hold thumbs.”

In terms of strategy, Sean’s comments ahead of the Queen’s Plate had been that the faster they went, the better Legal Eagle would like it. What are his thoughts for the Met? “We’ve raced him handy successfully now and obviously there has to be a plan B if there isn’t any pace. I’m not too phased. As long as it’s not a rough race – and it always is a bit rough – but as long as the best horse has an opportunity and there are no excuses afterwards, we’ll be happy.”

Can Legal Eagle join the illustrious few to have done the Queen’s Plate – Met double? History awaits.

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