R2 million Gr1 Champion Challenge over 2000m at Turffontein on Saturday
Champion trainer Mike de Kock sends out two previous winners of the Gr 1 Summer Cup – Rudra and Flirtation – as part of a three-pronged attack on the President’s Champion Challenge over 2000m at Turffontein on Saturday. It is 2008 Summer Cup hero Rudra who could hold the best chance of lifting the lion’s share of the R2 million purse in this conditions event, a race in which he finished second a year ago, and if the going comes up soft all the better it will be for him, wites MATTHEW LIPS.
Rudra – a sound chance at the weights
Rudra underlined his well-being with a runaway success in a pinnacle plate over 1600m on this course earlier in April, where he may have looked to have a fairly straight forward task on paper but where he nevertheless impressed by bolting in 4.25 lengths ahead of the front-running Amatol. The slow early pace and the fast ground did Rudra no favours whatsoever when he finished some six lengths behind Past Master in the J & B Met, a race in which he had a stiff task at the weights anyway, but a much better effort is on the cards here. He cannot be a confident selection, but he has a sound chance at the weights and this race is run over the same course-and-distance as the Summer Cup which he won so convincingly a couple of seasons ago.
The Talking Horse
The most talked-about horse in the race will undoubtedly be Dancewiththedevil, who has progressed in leaps and bounds over the past few months and who now races off a mark of 113 after being rated just 80 at the end of January. She has posted two successive and impressive wins at Gr 1 level over 1600m at Turffontein, coming from a long way off the pace with a devastating run to first beat male rivals in the very soft ground of the Horse Chestnut Stakes before wiping the floor with a field of her own gender in the Empress Club Stakes on much better going. She has never raced beyond 1600m and this will represent a leap into the unknown for St John Gray’s splendid four-year-old, but it the way she switches off in a race and then runs on over shorter at least gives her a reasonable shot at coping with the additional 400m. She could be more than a match for these rivals if she is indeed equally effective over 2000m, and she seems to act on any going.
Captain’s Wild joins stable companions Rudra and Flirtation in the 15 strong line-up. The four-year-old has started three times since he joined the De Kock yard and probably won a little more easily than the margin suggests when beating Smanjemanje by half-a-length in the Gr 2 Colorado King Stakes over this course-and-distance earlier in April. This is a much stronger race, and purely on merit ratings he has no chance whatsoever off a mark of 99 on these weight terms, but it is easy to think that Captain’s Wild is somewhat better than that rating. Even so this represents a very stiff test for him, and only the race will show how good he really is.
Flirtation – worthy of respect
Flirtation was also done no good whatsoever by the lack of early pace when she was never sighted and finished one from last in the J & B Met. She is at her best when able to quicken from well back in strongly-run races and that was precisely what happened when she won the Summer Cup here last November. She was however nicely weighted in that handicap, where she received 5 kgs from the now-retired runner-up Mother Russia, and she does have rather more to do on these terms. However, she put up an encouraging display after a 10 week break when staying on to finish 4.25 lengths third behind Dancewiththedevil over an inadequate 1600m in the Empress Club Stakes, and while the two meet on the same weight terms Flirtation is very well proven over 2000m. She remains worthy of some respect.
Galileo’s Galaxy gelded
Galileo’s Galaxy has been gelded since he finished a somewhat below-par 12 lengths seventh behind Dancewiththedevil in the Horse Chestnut Stakes last month and may have improved as a consequence. He is probably a better horse than his record of four wins from 15 starts would imply, having more than once appeared to not finish off his races, but while he may be more focused now that he has been gelded he has given the impression of being most effective over shorter distances than 2000m. His pedigree does however give him every right to be distance suited, and we could still see a “new” Galileo’s Galaxy emerge from the ashes of the old, so it would not be prudent to write off his chances here.
Stable companion Rudi Rocks seems to have seriously lost the taste for winning and was even more disappointing than normal when he made no show before finishing a tame 4.60 lengths fifth behind Captain’s Wild in the Colorado King Stakes last time out. He has ability and finished 1.75 lengths third behind Flirtation on the same weight terms as these in the Summer Cup, but he has been beaten in several lesser races since and it really is advisable to look elsewhere for the likely winner of this contest.
Regal Ransom won this race in very soft going last year, collaring Rudra in the closing stages to win by a neck, but he now meets that rival on 5 kgs worse terms. He showed he was finding some degree of form when staying on to finish 5.75 lengths third behind Rudra over 1600m earlier in April, but a second successive win in this race while conceding weight to every one of his opponents looks a highly unlikely prospect.
Earl Of Surrey up against better
Earl Of Surrey has been in very good form this year and was running on when 5.5 lengths second behind Dancewiththedevil over 1600m in soft going in March. The former Golden Horse Casino Sprint winner might be one of those very rare beasts who can win Gr 1 races from 1200m to 2000m, but while he won up to 2400m when trained in Zimbabwe earlier in life he was frankly beating fields that he could have disposed of in his sleep. There is a genuine doubt as to whether Earl Of Surrey can account for this calibre of field over 2000m, and while he cannot be altogether ruled out of the equation others do appeal as being more probable winners.
Tales Of Bravery & Felix no surprise to fight out the finish
Tales Of Bravery was well below best in his only Gauteng appearance, where he faded after racing handy and finished 14 lengths behind Dancewiththedevil in the Horse Chestnut. The very soft going may not have done him any favours and he would not be without a chance if fully acclimatised and able to give of his best, but he seemed to lack extra late when finishing fourth after setting a sedate pace in the J & B Met and could have some stamina question marks over a stiff 2000m in top class company. Even so it would not come as a big surprise to find him fighting out the finish under Felix Coetzee.
Bulsara distance suited not convincing
Bulsara has yet to convince that he stays 2000m and was beaten seven lengths behind Flirtation in the Summer Cup the last time he went the trip. He is left with quite a lot to find even facing Flirtation on 3 kgs better terns, but on the other hand he was such an easy winner of a Gr 3 race on soft ground over 1800m on the Turffontein inner course in January. That leaves one thinking that he may yet prove effective over 2000m, and he is a very useful sort indeed on his day, but he was below best when beaten 13 lengths behind Dancewiththedevil in the Horse Chestnut last time out. He had previously show himself effective on properly soft ground, so the conditions that day hardly offer much of an excuse.
Call To Combat – regular frontrunner
Dancewiththedevil’s stable companion Call To Combat is a regular frontrunner who made all to easily win a Listed handicap over 1600m on the inner course in February. He faded after racing up front when he finished 18 lengths adrift in the Horse Chestnut and looks out of his depth, but more to the point he may again be here to ensure a decent early pace and that leads one to believe that a true-run contest is on the cards. Happy Landing is another who has done well with frontrunning tactics and was ridden that way when he won a Listed handicap over 1800m on the inside track two starts ago, but he subsequently weakened to finish 4.5 lengths fourth in the Colorado King Stakes. He looks very well held on form, and he has never won from seven attempts on the Turffontein standside course.
Power Park was staying on to finish 1.75 lengths third behind Captain’s Wild in the Colorado King and is now 1 kg better off, but that probably isn’t quite enough to allow for the form to be capsized. He has started twice since an 11 week break and looks to be hitting top form at precisely the right time, but he is probably in too deep here. Mahogany has stamina influences in his pedigree and could conceivably appreciate being stretched to 2000m for the first time, but the longer distance is going to have to bring out plenty of improvement in him. He may well have needed the run after a 24 week absence when seven lengths fourth behind Rudra over 1600m recently, but he needs to improve out of his skin here as he now meets that rival on 6 kgs worse terms.
Goat seems better than her no-show eighth in the recent Empress Club Stakes and was staying on when she finished fourth in the Horse Chestnut at her penultimate start. The former Gr 2 Gold Circle Oaks winner will enjoy going back up in distance and would not be without a place chance on her best form, but that somewhat lifeless last effort is hardly encouraging.
About the pace
As already noted, a decent pace seems likely with Call To Combat and Happy Landing likely to ensure that they don’t dawdle. The proven ability to stay 2000m is thus a key issue, especially if the going is soft, and Rudra seems to tick all of the right boxes. He cannot exactly be an overly confident selection, but he has plenty going for him and is selected ahead of Dancewiththedevil, Captain’s Wild, Galileo’s Galaxy, and Bulsara. The best of the rest may be Flirtation.