The Vaal’s Own Royal Mascot

Peter Power - Vaal today and seen to good effect yesterday

The Gauteng Starting Team were under the spotlight again on Tuesday 14th after a few recent bizarre incidents at the starting stalls up North. The backers and connections of the ironically named First To Finish in the seventh race may as well have stayed at home. The Starter pressed the release button as she was clearly rearing and unsettled. Is this the way to win customers? Definitely not, and an official investigation is now long overdue.

The job of Starter is not for the faint-hearted. It requires nerves of steel, a presence of mind, a feeling for the unpredictable predictability of the horse,  and an empathy for the people whose money and time is running on the outcome of the race and who ultimately pay the salaries. There don’t appear too many ticks in the right boxes for this particular bunch of officials.  After the recent debacle of the wrong horses in the wrong stall-gates, a handler almost being killed while standing in front as the gates were released,  and a few other gems,  today’s incident was yet another example of questionable split-decision making.

The Steven Moffatt-trained First To Finish was rearing and performing as the Starter pressed the button for the launch of the seventh. She naturally lost lengths, punters did their tom in cold blood, the owner must pay keep for another month, she is declared under orders – and that is the end of it.  We move on. To add insult to injury the race was won by a 33-1 no-hoper in the Second Empire filly Full Moon Rising, trained by Mike Azzie and bred by Judy Wintle. The tote favourite Danish finished  unplaced, the PA jumped 600% and the Pick Six and Jackpot rocketed into the stratosphere. Wonderful game. So easy and customer – friendly. We just want to come rushing back tomorrow. Not bloody likely!

And while we are whinging, if accuracy be the yardstick, then listen to Tellytrack and stick yourself right out. Presenter Cecil Mtembu waxed lyrical this afternoon about the admittedly  fine form of trainer Paul Peter, who had the distinction of sending out an impressive double with two year olds  in open company  in the first two legs of the Pick Six, and then winning the last, to make it three on the day.  But pure mathematics made nonsense of the presenter’s repetitive assertion of ‘six winners and seven places from their last thirteen runners.’  Just ask the backers of the unplaced and disappointing Peter-trained favourite in the first race.

We would be the first to concede that this trainer is having a great run in both KZN and Gauteng but our frustration is with the lack of accuracy on the racing channel. The Peter stats  error  is insignificant in the bigger scheme of things but it is a matter of principle and speaks of the reckless perpetuation of myths and falsehoods by Tellytrack. That is why they get results incorrect, tote favourites wrong and just blunder merrily on. There are some top-class racing men on the screen including the likes of Shaheen Shaw and Dave Mollett. But don’t believe anything the rest tell you –  they are worse than Ripley’s.

The Pick Six opened on a deceptively positive note when the two year old Muhtafal colt Horse Of Josiah maintained his consistent formline when powering through late and wide out to account for a mixed bag of largely moderate sorts in the fourth race, a Maiden Plate over 1000m. The grey, trained by   Paul Peter , who had hopefully by then overcome the disappointment of seeing his first race favourite, Imani,  run way below expectations, won like a horse with upward potential. Anthony Delpech was also fairly generous in his assessment of the winner, saying he would improve and should  win again.  The Dom Zaki alumite-strike Sizzling Guy showed good pace and nice improvement to run second, while the other two year old, Gaucho Spin, flew late for third on his first sand run after a collective seventy odd  lengths behind in his first five efforts.

The Western Winter Patricia Devine-bred two year Winter’s Song was the second of Peter’s double when he scooted away  from a large field of fair sand sprint sorts in the fifth race. He won again for Anthony Delpech  and beat the improved Benbow with apprentice Denise Lee in the saddle. This young lady continues to catch the eye with her balance and  obvious talent and she will hopefully not get lost in the mists of the reducing claiming allowances, as happens to many young riders.

Felix Coetzee, fresh off a great day on the coast at Clairwood yesterday, rode a brilliantly judged race on the talented Master Blaster to win the sixth. This son of Al Mufti appears to have found his niche in terms of distance and surface after an explosive start to his career as a grass sprinter. And he looks like he can only get better and better after a mid-career form slump. He looked beaten as the Oppenheimer-silked  Strike Smartly gelding Art Wish, moved up alongside him at about the 300m marker, but Felix was bluffing and he squeezed him again as he drew away. He looks a genuine Emerald Cup candidate and being a R1 million National Sale graduate, would need to win something juicy like that to balance his personal balance sheet.

Paul Peter closed the day on a high with Queen Sarah who held on to win the ninth race, after looking like she had just gone too fast early. S’Mango Khumalo bounced her and gave her the run of the road and she was never sighted by her rivals in this MR 76 Fillies and Mares Handicap over 1000m. Having run some 23 lengths back on this course and distance four months ago, her form turnaround is remarkable. Mr Peter is doing something right and with his only three stable runners in the Pick Six arriving as bankers,  we hope he and his connections got a slice of that close to R200 000 payout.  Not too many of us did.

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