Please note: Greyville race meeting has been postponed to Sunday 31 July and Turffonteins race meeting will now take place on Saturday
Gr1 Champions Cup over 1800m at Greyville on Sunday
With four Gr1 events taking place on Canon Gold Cup Day as well as our two top jockeys battling for supremacy, a thrilling climax to the season looks sure to be had this weekend.
With top horses from around the country now assembled in Natal, the Gr1 Champions Cup is always a very mouthwatering affair and although upsets have occurred with amazing regularity in recent years, it does nonetheless take a very good sort to win it, writes Steve Furnish.
Best in at the weights taking everything into account are Captain’s Secret and Buy And Sell
One of five runners from the stable of Mike Bass, Captain’s Secret won four of his first seven starts and as a youngster was up there with the very best of his generation. He’s put in some very creditable performances since returning from a nine month layoff in October, most notably when only picked off late by the J&B Met winner Past Master in the Gr2 Drill Hall Stakes. This son of Captain Al has a fair draw here and looks sure to be in striking distance when the sixteen turn for home. Four of his five successes have been achieved over sprint distances though, and he is yet to win over further than 1400m.
Buy And Sell
Sean Tarry’s charge beat the legendary Pocket Power when landing this event in 2008 and was far from disgraced when finishing third in this very same race in 2009. Buy And Sell has clearly had his problems since then and has only managed to find the winner’s enclosure once in his last twenty starts. He was reported as lame on the off fore when finishing tailed off in the Gr1 Horse Chestnut Stakes in March and at that stage one might have thought that this 7yo’s career was over. Since returning to action in May though, he has been coming to hand, and in our book, he only ran six points below that of his current merit rating last time out. Buy And Sell has his third run after the rest here and it is worth noting that he was once rated three points higher by the official handicapper than he is today.
Stable companion Gold Onyx won the Gr1 Premier’s Champion Stakes over 1600m at this circuit in eye catching fashion last season and at that stage of his career he looked to be a top sort in the making. He battled to find his form after returning from a break in November, but since arriving in Natal, he has undoubtedly been coming to hand. He ran on particularly well when only beaten 1,4 lengths into fifth in the Daily News last time out and he is now 2,5kg better off at the weights with the winner The Apache.
As well as Captain’s Secret, trainer Mike Bass is represented by all of Super Storm, Blue Tiger, Brown Penny and Castlethorpe.
Beaten just 3,4 lengths in the July last time out, Super Storm is at the top of his game right now. He’s gained two of his five successes over 1800m, and interestingly, he did win his only previous start over today’s course and distance. Jockey Karl Neisius knows him well and although he’s not particularly well drawn, and has no easy task at the weights, he should still be thereabouts.
A bit of an enigma, Blue Tiger was rated 115 just nine months ago. He was fourth in this race back in 2009 and were he to reproduce his very best here would certainly have a chance at today’s weights. His best recent form has been over sprint distances in the Cape though and it is interesting to note that he is yet to win over further than 1450m.
Brown Penny has shown steady improvement during the course of this season and it was nice to see him gain just reward for his efforts when picking up the listed Thukela Handicap over 1600m at this circuit last time out. He was beaten fair and square by his stable companion Super Storm in his previous outing though, and now 5kg worse off at the weights with that one, and drawn widest of the sixteen to boot, he does look to be up against it here.
Taking everything into account then, the stable elect could well be the 3yo Castlethorpe. At his best when racing up with, or close to the speed, this son of Not A Single Doubt has come to hand nicely since returning from a short break in March. He was running on stoutly when awarded a MR95 Handicap in the stewards room here on his arrival in Natal in May and he did then run a very good race when only picked off in the latter stages of the Gr1 Gold Challenge last time out. He can be forgiven his weaker showing in the July last time out as not only was he severely cramped at one stage, but he also hit the rail. Castlethorpe is fairly treated at the weights here and he sets off from a nice draw. If he can reproduce that Clairwood run in the Gold Challenge here, he won’t be so easy to peg back down this much shorter straight.
The highest rated runner in the field, St John Gray’s charge has been a revelation since shedding her maiden tag at the back end of last season. Indeed, her merit rating has risen some forty points, and the style of her victories in back to back Gr1 events in Gauteng was northing short of sensational. What is perhaps significant here though is that all of her victories, including those two Gr1 events, have been gained at courses with long galloping home straights. She was beaten on both starts at the sharp inner track at Turffontein and despite running on with her usual flare, she again tasted defeat in her only previous outing at this circuit last time out. The wide draw should not be too much of a concern for Dancewiththedevil as she usually races at the back, and her style of racing would suggest that the extra here will suit. She does still only have that short home straight in which to unwind though, and unless she can get herself closer to the pace when the race begins in earnest, it could well be her undoing again.
After winning two outings in a row in Natal early in the season, Gavin Van Zyl’s charge was campaigned in Gauteng and taking into account his very wide draw, he ran a good fifth to Kavanagh in the Gr3 Graham Beck Stakes over 1400m. Those two earlier wins had both been gained over a minimum of 1600m and he clearly relished the extra when put back over that distance in the Gr2 Dingaans. Indeed, he ran on best of all from another wide draw and surprising most won particularly well. The Apache was off the track for six months after winning that prestigious event and after finishing strongly to take fourth in the KZN Guineas following a break next time out, he did then finish best of all to win the Gr1 Daily News over 2000m in his penultimate start. He was running on stronger than the first three in the closing stages of the race when fourth to Igugu in the July last time out and although he now has a very wide draw to contend with again here, I expect him to be involved.
Stable companion Bulsara was also in very good form in Gauteng earlier in the season and although he’s without a win in six starts now, he has been running up to his rating since arriving in Natal. He was only a short head behind The Apache in the July last time out and although that one was finishing much the stronger on that occasion, Bulsara is 1kg better off at the weights here and has a better draw.
This son of Western Winter had won three in a row going into the Gr2 Selangor Cup and had he not been hampered at a crucial stage in that event, he would surely have given the talented winner What A Winter something to think about. He won the prestigious Gr1 Cape Guineas in his next start and having landed the Natal Guineas over 1600m here in good style on his arrival in Natal, he too has to be a serious runner. Justin Snaith’s charge was then beaten fair and square by The Apache after racing handy in the Daily News, but it might just have been that he found that 2000m trip a tad too far. He ran on strongly when given a sprint up in preparation for this event over 1200m last time out and setting off from gate two here, he has to be a factor if putting his best foot forward.
Lion In Winter
After a spell of rather indifferent performances earlier in the season, Joey Ramsden’s charge has come to hand very nicely in recent months and has run up to his rating in four of his last five starts. Lion In Winter ran on strongly when winning a pinnacle event at Clairwood just two weeks ago and interestingly, he is unbeaten in two starts over 1800m. He’s drawn well in gate five and should be thereabouts.
Is Lion In Winter the stable elect though? Stable companion Il Saggiatore commands a very nice turn of foot and has caught the eye finishing very strongly on several occasions. Indeed, he was fairly flying after being a little slow into stride in the Cape Derby and only lost out by the narrowest of margins. He’s come to hand nicely since returning from a break in May and he did then gain just compensation when winning the Natal Derby in his third run after a rest last time out. One gets the impression that we haven’t seen the best of this son of Galileo and with Anton Marcus, who rode him for the first time in the Derby staying with him, and setting off from gate four, he has to be respected.
With some of the higher rated runners drawn very wide this race is once again much more open than it would appear at first glance and one that could well arrive at big odds, is the Stephen Page trained Cask. This son of Fort Wood looked to be a very good sort in the making when cruising in by five at Clairwood at the back end of last season and so it was no real surprise when he landed the Gr2 Midmar Premier Trophy over today’s distance at Kenilworth in December. What was a surprise though was the manner in which he reeled in two very useful sorts in Super Storm and Bravura. Running on from the rear that day, Cask fairly flew over the final 400m and did very well indeed to get up in the very last stride. He’s without a win in six starts since, but he has been steadily coming to hand since returning from a break April. He again flew up in good style when only beaten a half length in the listed Thukela Handicap over 1600m here earlier in the month and now back to what could be his optimum distance, he could pop up. A dark horse.
One of just two females in the race, Reconcile commands a fair turn of foot on her day and has caught the eye running on behind the best of her sex on a number of occasions. She’s at the top of her game having won her last two outings and she has won two of her five starts over today’s distance. She looks sure to give of her best setting off from barrier seven with Sean Cormack in the saddle, but she won’t find it easy at the weights here against some very talented younger boys.
The most lightly raced of today’s sixteen runners is Sage Throne. He’s shown big improvement with each start since returning from a layoff in April and was only beaten by the useful Il Saggiatore in the Natal Derby last time out in the steward’s room. A 3yo son of Dynasty, Colin Scott’s charge clearly has plenty of scope for further improvement. He does undoubtedly face by far his stiffest test to date here though and he might really prefer further.
About The Pace
With no out and out frontrunners in the field and most preferring to race from off them, there is a chance that this race will develop into a sprint. It looks to be a very intriguing contest all the same though, and an upset could once again be on the cards. The ones I like best on the day are Cask, Gold Onyx and The Apache with preference being in that order.