Category Archives: Global Racing

Saturday Relfections: Oooooh Susannaaaa!

The losing run (12) broken – 2 winners, both sweet in their own right. Fiery Breath (9/2), backed before the off as if defeat was out of question, got there in a thriller. No doubt, the highlight of the day was Oh Susanna (5/1), running away with the Met at Kenilworth!

When this 3-year old filly won the Paddock Stakes three weeks ago, I thought she’s got the making of a superstar, if stepping up in trip. Connections duly obliged, entering her in the Grade 1 Sun Met – I could not wait to get a price for her in that race!

It was a long wait as European bookies didn’t price the race up until Saturday morning. But with so many things speaking in her favour, as outlined in my preview, I thought the price offered was too generous. In fact, she even went off 6/1SP!

Oh Susanna Makes History

Oh Susanna made history: a three year old filly winning the Met – that didn’t happen for over a 100 years. It’s an incredibly difficult task, in South Africa’s richest race, for a young horse to prevail against, hardy, experienced top-class rivals.

It shows what special talent she is. You only have to watch the replay to see it with your own eyes. She is still so raw, babyish, making life tough for her rider.

Halfway through the race, still pulling hard, then, when the pace increases over three furlongs out she seems to hit a flat spot. Seemingly, but not really, as moments later she hits sixth gear and simply runs away with it. Leaving Grant Van Niekerk once again celebrating long before the winning post!

Unbeatable Gun Runner

It didn’t turn out to be profitable for me personally, as Sharp Azteca completely flopped, however as a racing fan you couldn’t be not in awe with the performance Gun Runner put up in his final race in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup.

The freshly crowned American Horse of the Year overcame his wide draw – what many thought to be a death trap – with ease to be up with the pace without using too much energy right before the first turn.

The supposed early speed from Sharp Azteca was taken out as Collected moved forward quickly, while the star miler got also hindered in his own way forward by the crossing Gun Runner. That killed pretty much his chances – and my money went down the drain.

Second favourite West Coast was right there as well, however, when the money was down, was once again no match for the superstar that Gun Runner is – not only winning the richest horse race on earth, but also setting off to a new career after winning six Grade 1 races on the bounce. WOW! Simple as that.

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Preview: Kenilworth – 2018 Sun Met

Amid controversy around leading owner Marcus Jooste it seems increasingly difficult for South African racing to focus on what matters most: the sport. Regardless, the Sun Met remains a special race and a special contest we’re sure to have on our hands on Saturday!

Reigning horse of the year and hot favourite Legal Eagle couldn’t be in better form after an incredible run in the Queen’s Plate over a mile at this track earlier this month.

Legal Eagle is widely regarded as one of the best milers South Africa has seen in a while and that is also the question mark: the step up to 2.000 meter. It is true that he has won over this trip – five runs, two wins, three runner-up efforts – two of them came in the Met the last two years, though!

So, the Eagle has no problem stretching out to 10 furlongs, but is certainly vulnerable, especially in top class company. The draw hasn’t been kind to him – 15 is a tough ask. However he has obvious gate speed and if there isn’t too much pace on in the early parts of the race it’ll certainly help him more than anyone.

We know Legal Eagle is high class, we know he will bring his best to the table, he is the highest rated horse in the country and could make it third time lucky on Saturday – still I have to take him on.

Last seasons Durban July winner Marinaresco has been dealt a 13 draw. He finished fifth in the Met last year but had a nice prep recently when staying on really well in the Queen’s Plate. He could come with a late burst to finish at least in the money. He’s no more than a fair price in my book, though, as he simply might come too late the party from a long way back.

Lightly raced and fast improving Last Winter is an intriguing contender. He made an easy transition from Handicaps  right into Grade 2 company when last seen, however  to be drawn in the car park is a massive blow to his chances. He has to be exceptional in order to win from stall 20.

African Night Sky operates at a 50% strike rate and won three Grade 3 contests last year. Fair comeback run in the Queen’s Plate, but is he good enough to land a top-class middle-distance contest? I doubt it.

The one I’m interested for a while is the light-weight in the race; with low mileage on the clock, Oh Susanna raced seven times today, having won two of them. She looked, however, different proposition when stepping up to 1.800m in the Grade 1 Paddock Stakes on Queen’s Plate Day earlier this month.

She had a good draw in five and was therefore in a good position early on, however, at the same time, she was literally tanking her way forward, being a handful for her jockey. She continued to pull for most parts of the race, which made it even more impressive how easily she won in the end, leaving van Niekerk to celebrate early.

Now stepping up against the boys – on Handicap terms she would have a bit to find with some of the top rated horses in the race. A light weight of 51.5kg with potential improvement for experience and trip could easily offset that, though.

On pedigree a step up to 10f should certainly suit. She is quite well bred with plenty more to come over this new trip. Question mark is how she will settle over this longer distance, when there is little pace early on. If she finds an early rhythm from a good draw, then, I believe, she has enough quality to go all the way.

Selection:
10pts win – Oh Susanna @ 5/1 Bet365

Preview: Pegasus World Cup

Can newly crowned 2017 American Horse Of The year, Gun Runner, finish his career in the most lucrative fashion? He certainly is the red-hot favourite for the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.

Whether even money is a good or a bad price depends on individual perspective. Undisputed is, however, that the reigning Breeders’ Cup champ has all the credentials to win a fifth consecutive Grade 1.

He drops down a furlong from his impressive Del Mar success, which isn’t a problem given his excellent record over 9 furlongs. SO, can he beaten?

Absolutely! Drawn wide, he’s got to be at his very best to prevail in a deep field. He’s had a tough campaign last season, including a trip to Dubai. That can take a toll on horses, as we have seen in this very same race only twelve months ago, when California Chrome flopped spectacularly.

Is he going to be at his very best coming off a near three months lay-off? Possibly – Steve Asmussen knows the horse best and will ensure his star is ready for one final big performance.

Nonetheless, at even money I have to oppose him, simply from a betting perspective, with other exciting options available to back against the favourite.

Pacific Classic winner – inflicting a painful defeat to Arrogate – and BCC runner-up Collected rates a big danger on that form. He has no problems with the trip, usually travells well and is gutsy.

He flopped in a Grade 2 at the back-end of the 2017 season; some recent reports from the US suggest he did not impress in his workouts. That’s not to say he can’t be back to his best when it matters most – but maybe those big runs have left a mark?

West Coast looks more likely to cause the ‘upset’. Impressive Travers Stakes and Pennsylvania Derby successes, followed by a third placed- and far from disgraced effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

A drop to 1m 1f should suit this horse down to the grounds. From a perfect draw he should be in a perfect position when it really matters. Castellano gets the leg up. He is still only four, so could potentially improve. He’s a big player here and one I like allot. 7/1 looks a good price.

That says, 10/1 for Sharp Azteca looks even better in my book. The speedball has a perfect draw to suit his running style, though could face competition for the lead. He proved versatile, on the other hand, and seems to have no problem tracking the pace either.

He landed a first Grade 1 success at Aqueduct in the Cigar Mile in most impressive style despite carrying top weight. If the Pegasus would be run over a mile, Sharp Azteca would be hard to beat. It isn’t, though. Hence the additional furlong is the key question.

Plenty are of the opinion he won’t stay the trip. Once taken on by the big guns in the home straight he will falter. You can point to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile where exactly that happened. Though there were some slight excuses, possibly, that day.

On the plus side: even though only on Grade 3 level, he won the Monmouth Cup over 1m 1/2f by more than seven lengths back in July last year. He didn’t appear to be stopping – and albeit better opposition awaits here – I do not see how Sharp Azteca is down as not staying 9f in the book of so many.

On pedigree there is certainly every chance he could even stretch out to 10 furlongs. Furthermore, Gulfstream Park is a track he already won twice at; it is a course to favour his running style in general. So I think there is every chance that Sharp Azteca is in the right place when it matters.

At 10’s I feel he is overpriced. Yes, he is not the most likely winner in the race. But he is the biggest value being fully unexposed over the trip, coming here in the form of his life, with a perfect draw and conditions to suit.

Selection:
10pts win – Sharp Azteca @ 10/1 PP/BF

The World’s Best Racehorse in 2017

The news broke on Tuesday afternoon and Twitter went wild: Arrogate was crowned the World’s Best Racehorse in 2017.

Australia’s wonder mare Winx finished second, Cracksman and Gun Runner joint third. And Enable? The Arc, dual Oaks, Yorkshire Oaks and QE II champion?

Fifth. Let that sink in….

“Are you kidding???” my initial reaction. A couple of angry tweets later I remind myself how these self-proclaimed world thoroughbred rankings are compiled.

Arrogate landed the Dubai World Cup in most scintillating fashion, flopped on three subsequent occasions afterwards – however, this doesn’t matter for the rankings. One might wonder why? It all makes sense if you know what BHA handicapper Phil Smith explains:

“We look at the best sustainable performance over the whole year. We ask if the form of a race can be supported and substantiated by the prior and subsequent performances of the winner and/or placed horses.
With Arrogate, his Pegasus World Cup win nearly replicates his Dubai World Cup performance. The form of the placed horses in both races is also rock-solid. What we are talking about here is a classification of performances from January 1 to December 31.”

Long story short: the World’s Best Racehorse is awarded to the horse that ran the single best race in the given year. It probably would be more appropriately titled “World’s Best Racing Performance in 2017”.

Plenty of wise racing folks are of the opinion Arrogate’s stunning Dubai win was, indeed, the single biggest performance of the entire year. So there must be some merit to it – who am I to argue?

Because his performance in the DWC was deemed so outstanding, it didn’t matter what else he did in 2017. In the eyes of the panel (that came up with the rankings), that day Arrogate repeated performances from the past, hence the performance was deemed sustainable.

Well, racing and judging performances is subjective – the world thoroughbred rankings are highly subjective as well. An esteemed panel comes up with these ratings – still it is a subjective way of assessing performances. There is no other way in racing, though.

Personally, I do not agree with the rankings. Plenty others do. And that is okay, too. I believe, nonetheless, to crown the best horse of any year based on one single performance – in this case achieved in March – while not taking into account the rest of the year and therefore subsequent performances, is flawed.

I find it hard to accept that a filly like Enable, who won five top class Group 1 races in 2017, doesn’t even get into the top 3 of these rankings. Mind you, The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was named the best individual race of 2017… but the horse who won it, who clearly repeated her big performances time after time, finishes in the so called World’s Best Racehorse rankings only in 5th place.

It’s not right. In my eyes, at least. I think, if you want to ensure that this award is a serious reflection of achievement in a given year, you have to be able to reflect and look back on the entire year in order to decide what performance(s) reflect the very best of this given year. That has its own flaws, mind. Still, it would be a fairer way, in my opinion.

That doesn’t take anything away from Arrogate. He was – deservedly so – crowned the World’s Best Racehorse in 2016. He clearly was not the best in 2017, though. His DWC victory remains a sensational piece of achievement, nonetheless.

So does Enable’s Arc win, beating eleven other Group 1 winners that day. Doing at at the end of a long season. Doing it after landing four other big Goup 1 prizes during her 2017 campaign.

So is a third consecutive Cox Plate win by Winx. Who did it after winning nine other graded races in 2017, including 5 more Group 1’s.

That’s class. Class that has been repeated over and over again. An exceptionally high level of performance that is sustainable. As 2017 proved.

Igugu’s Legacy Lives On

Wonderful news: IguguRacingNews reported this morning that we finally know the name of the only son the super filly brought to the world in her short lived career as a broodmare. His name is Kikujirou.

The two year old, sired by Dansili, will be in good hands as he will be trained by John Gosden in England.

Great things are expected: Kikujirou has been given an entry for the 2019 Epsom Derby! Obviously it’s very early days and it remains to be seen how good he really is; however, here’s hoping he can live on the legacy of the great filly.

Igugu has been one of my all-time favourites. Up with the likes of Paco Boy, Sea The Stars, Variety Club and Rachel Alexandra she is part of my personal Hall of Fame. Not forgotten, and never will, are her gutsy wins in the Met and the Durban July.

Triumphs so special they stand the test of time.

Saturday Reflections

Dundalk All-Weather

First things first: Toriano (5/1) got the job done at Lingfield! Got his head in front when it mattered. The third winner of the still quite fresh year.

Late money arrived for American Patrol at Kempton in the evening. From an impossible position he was never any serious questions asked, though, and to my eyes it looked as if PJ McDonald saved him for another day. Still, American Patrol made eye-catching headway in the closing stages. His day will come soon.

The End of the Southwell Dream?

Media reported that Southwell racecourse is likely to change its racing surface to Tapeta next year. The installation of floodlights is also in discussion.

Only a proposal at this point in time, so the official statement. However, the Twitter machine suggested otherwise. The end for the Fibresand surface is more a given than a mere possibility.

There’ll be many who won’t mind. Some who’ll be more than happy to see it go. A few are probably going to miss it.  I’ll be sad. Southwell would becomee “just another one”. Not that there’s anything wrong with Tapeta, or Polytrack for that matter.

Wolverhampton, Newastle, Lingfield, Kempton, Chelmsford – all fine tracks. I love All-Weather racing no matter what. Nonetheless, Southwell is unique. Unique because of the Fibresand. A different test for horses, a different way races are run. It suits some horses. Other don’t act here at all. That’s the fun!

As a betting medium I love it. As a racing fan I applaud it. For being different. A stand-out in the British racing scene. Here’s hoping Southwell will make the right decision: keep the Fibresand and keep the uniqueness of the racecourse alive.

Legal Eagle Does it Again!

For a third consecutive time South Africa’s highest rated horse landed the Group 1 Queen’s Plate over a mile at Kenilworth racecourse. A stunning success, perfectly timed by Anton Marcus in the saddle.

For a moment or two it looked like pace setter Captain America might have got away with it. However, from 2f out Legal Eagle kicked into top gear and cut back the lead rapidly. No problems in the end.

He reminds me a bit of former South African superstar – Variety Club. An impressive Plate winner himself, who went to win at Meydan and Hong Kong. In fact, comparisons aren’t to far off, given Legal Eagle could seek his own international glory in November this year, as thanks to the Queen’s Plate success, he’s automatically earned the right to contest the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Teenage Triumph in the Welsh National

Horse racing simply delivered the best stories. More often than not. There is young jockey James Bowen, a year ago still riding the ponies, 16 year of age, still claiming five pounds, sitting on 13 year old Raz De Maree.

That in itself is kinda odd But then these two go on the romp home in the Grade 3 Welsh National! That success didn’t look all that likely when the field turned for home with four fences to jump. Raz De Maree had lost contention to the front group, Bowen tried his best to keep the 16/1 longshot going.

The veteran responded. Between third and second last, he seemingly found another gear and with two out suddenly jumped to the lead, which he never gave away again.

A heroic effort, from both, horse and jockey. And certainly a day young James Bowen won’t forget too quickly.

Chrome vs. Arrogate 2.0

On a day like this where our beloved sport produced its finest moments just to be followed by  incredible tragedy, it’s comforting that we racing fans can drown our sorrow – at least for a moment – in excitement about the next big race.

It might be fickle, it might feel wrong but this is simply the circle of life in our game of horse racing. Greats come, Greats go, the next star’s just been borne… but that is racing also: legends are never forgotten.

And a legend we’ll never forget is the great Many Clouds, who sadly left us today, after a heroic win at Cheltenham. I had the privilege to see this almighty horse winning the Grand National in 2015 – a historic performance is was. What a warrior, what a star, a true Great of our game. RIP big fella….

many_clouds.jpg

But there it is, the next big race – its protagonists deserve our full attention. This big race is the inaugural Pegasus World Cup. World class prize money on offer, with a purse of $12 million it’s the richest race on earth! although it’s debatable whether the tag “World Cup” is justified, given it’s a race on dirt with no foreign raider in the 12-runner line-up and only two of them truly deserve to be called world class.

Nonetheless this is an intriguing contest like few others, purely because those two world class horses are no less than the recently crowned number one and two of the world rankings: Arrogate and California Chrome!

A single pound between the two in the ratings indicates what a close contest we might witness tonight – effectively a match-race, much like when these two met the first- and last time. That was in November, in the Breeders Cup Classic, a day when the three year old Arrogate prevailed by half a lengths after a thrilling finish down the home straight.


Arrogate won fair and square that day in my humble opinion. In fact he looks special, which became evident to me after his sensational performance in the Travers Stakes. It looked almost unreal the way he demolished his rivals in what was a top notch Grade 1!

However is he really better than California Chrome? The jury is still out, I feel. Let’s not forget Arrogate received a handy little weight for age allowance in the Breeders Cup Classic, and no doubt he endured a much less gruelling season leading up to the big race at Santa Anita than the 2014 Kentucky Derby winner certainly did.

Chrome in contrast travelled the world, ripped the Dubai World Cup field apart and went on to win two more Grade ones, making super mare Beholder look ordinary in the Pacific Classic. Whether he was still at 100% in November, when on go for so long, where one big race followed the next is hard to say.

What is easy to say: Chrome is not slowing down. He’s as good as ever, judged on  an easy prep run at Los Alamitos in the middle of December. Arrogate in contrast didn’t have another race since the Breeders Cup. A disadvantage? I reckon it’s not. For all he’s still the younger horse, with fresher legs and upside.

Tactics will be interesting today. Arrogate is drawn on the inside, Chrome widest on the outside. Two tricky gates to start from. Chrome may need to work to get up with the pace where he usually wants to sit whereas Arrogate has to be careful not to get boxed in.

Nonetheless when it really comes down to it, these two will fight it out. Who’s going to win? Impossible to say. My gut feeling is that Chrome might have a little bit more going for himself here. The run under his belt last month, he meets Arrogate at level weights today and the not insignificant drop to nine furlongs could be more in his favour too.

After all, it’s probably fair to say that this is a coin flip. With that in mind I got to go with California Chrome. He’s a the value price. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets outstayed in thrilling finish by the extra special Arrogate. In less than two hours we’ll find out.

Selection: California Chrome @ 6/4 Skybet