Zim Racing On Way Back!

Delta Corporation Gr1 Castle Tankard

1960 saw the first running of the Castle Tankard and on Saturday 11 May 2024 we saw the latest renewal of this Group 1 Handicap with a purse of over R900 000.

As expected, recently arrived Raffles creamed it with an awesome ride by Gavin Lerena, who picked up three winners on the day.

Raffles won in the fast time of 120,06 for the 2000m.

Happy Raffles connections with the 2024 Tankard winner and Gavin Lerena (Pic – Zimbabwe Equine News )

Second was another recent SA purchase, Majestic Warrior ridden in an equally well-timed drive by Deryl Daniels.

Wantage ran a cracking third and last year’s winner, Ideal View ran a creditable fourth.

Read more about Time Thief.

This outcome might spur other SA owners to consider a raid across the border – but it’s too late for the next Group 1 – the OK Grand Challenge – with a purse of R1,800,000 to be run over 1800 meters on 8 June.

The qualification criteria – at least one run in Zim before the big race – has now passed as there is no scheduled meeting before the OK – but it is something for them to consider for next year.

And what a racecourse Borrowdale Park is.

The course looked superb on Tankard Day and the stands were packed for the racing, the beer, the fashion and the entertainment – all put on by sponsors, Delta Corporation – brewers of so many top class beers and soft drinks.

Rumours of the death of Borrowdale Park and the Mashonaland Turf Club are grossly exaggerated.

In discussion with a number of Stewards, it was established that the finances of the club – which had been under pressure for a few years – were now in decent health and the Board’s drive to re-purpose the club’s assets through the development of its retail park and its infield farming activities were paying handsome dividends and that there were a number of other typically creative Zim initiatives about to bear fruit in the near future. That Borrowdale Park can now sustain itself in these ways is made doubly impressive when it is recognised that the Club receives not one cent from gambling. Having said that, it is understood that discussions are underway to rectify this shortcoming.

All of this means that the future of Borrowdale Park is assured – how many race course operators can make such claims in such circumstances?

Such prospects will be music to the ears of those who are members of the Centaur Syndicate – now reported to be the most-long standing racing syndicate anywhere in the world. Centaur is currently in its forty seventh successive year in racing at Borrowdale Park. Its mantra is to try and invest in horses which might be able to lift the coveted Zimbabwe Triple Crown – the Guineas (1600m), The Zimbabwe 2000 and the Zimbabwe Derby (2400m) – and to do so with budgets that are consistent with the purses on offer at Borrowdale.

Long term Centaur Chairman, “CJ” Smith, says “the economics of owning race horses are not too clever – anywhere really, but especially in Zim, but the members are in it more for the sport and bragging rights than profits. W

Winning the Triple Crown is such a difficult mission to achieve and has only occurred about seven times in the history of the Zim accolade – so that is why we have it as our mission – because it’s tough to achieve. There’s a winners of the big handicaps every year, indeed, I and some good pals were very pleased and proud to win the 2023 Castle Tankard with Ideal View, but elusive Triple Crowns still remain our chief goal.

And the current season has filled Centaur with much pleasure – no more so than when Buster Barnes cruised through to win the Zimbabwe Derby on Tankard Day. To buy a yearling or young two year old, bring it through the months soundly to the three different races of the Triple Crown is not easy. Not only has the horse to be exceptional but so too does the trainer. Debbie Swanson has proved she has such credentials. As for the jockey, he needs to ride his races in three different ways and be able to go to plan B with ease. Jockeys such as Richard Fourie and Gavin Lerena are supremely talented in these things and it’s no surprise that they have so much success. What does surprise me a quite a lot is that the jockey we chose to ride Buster Barnes is not better supported in South Africa. I know there was a period when Deryl Daniels was not riding and for a variety of reasons but he is back now – in full command of himself and I am impressed. His style, his balance, his calmness and his overall riding skills are there in abundance (I am sure he was once Champion Appie) – and he can ride at 53kg. Here is a jockey SA trainers should be using a lot more – but not until Buster Barnes retires!

On Tankard Day not only did Deryl complete the Triple Crown in the orange silks of Centaur when winning the Derby by a country mile, but he also rode brilliantly on Majestic Warrior to run second to Raffles in the Tankard.

With regards to Buster Barnes, he was bought at the 2 year old sales in South Africa in late 2022 at a cost of R200,000. He is by Erupt, who is by Dubawi. For me, this sire is surprisingly not as popular in SA as perhaps he should be, you know he ran in the 2015 Arc and was only a couple of lengths off Golden Horn and then later he ran in the Japan Cup and again was unplaced but just a couple of lengths off Shonon Pandora. The dam Servilia is by Caesour – the Northern Dancer cross we look for – and she was a sprinter and winner of five or six races over 1000 to 1200 meters. So a bit of stamina and a bit of speed from a Mr Prospector – Northern Dancer cross. One of the classic nicks which Centaur has pursued for years – a stayer with a good turn of foot.  Well done breeder Millstream.

Buster Barnes will now be targeted at the OK Grand Challenge – and Deryl Daniels is assured of the ride – if he wants it. Beyond that, the plans are less clear. Should he win the OK, he will need to do so in a very fast time if he is going to have any chance of prospering in South Africa – but we shall cross that bridge when we come to it”

Also on Tankard Day, another of CJ’s projects surpassed all expectations. The ZimFun Racing Club Ltd.

Ahh this was a bit of a Covid induced idea – to form a racing club as a limited company and offer shares for $100 each – ideally an annual purchase – and use the format to encourage folk to get involved in racing for not a lot of money or risk, bring former owners back into the racing fold, provide a bit of a learning nursery for those who might want to buy their own horses but need to know a bit about the game first and to bring a few more people to the races. And to do all this without any paid admin function – the whole thing is run by volunteers and all capital goes to buying and keeping horses in training. 

Modestly speaking it’s been a great success. I think we have about 200 shareholders of which about 50 are stalwarts. And we have had some great horses, not least of which is our current gelding, Var Aglow – by Var out of Jet Aglow. Debbie Swanson trains him and on Saturday he went for his sixth win in succession. He had won four races for ZimFun – which race in the bright yellow colours with the Smiley Face Emoji – but had to carry 61kg. I didn’t think he could do it but duly obliged and did so impressively. ZimFunners have become renowned for their noise and extravagant champagne fuelled celebrations – Saturday was no exception.

How long I can keep this show on the road remains to be seen but at this stage it is doing all we hoped it would do and new owners are emerging from the ranks of ZimFun shareholders”  

It is refreshing to learn first-hand that the prophets of Borrowdale Park doom are being proved wrong and yet it is not surprising when it is recognised once again that Zimbos don’t give up easily and are renowned world-wide for “making a plan”

In closing, CJ said “the best is yet to come, watch this space and make a plan to be racing at Borrowdale Park – soon

  • Report by C John Smith

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