Tag Archives: South Africa

The Good, Bad & Ugly – Week #1:2019

It’s a new year – the time for a New Year’s Resolution: be more active on the blog again! Plain and simple.

The last year in particular I’ve focused on the betting side neglecting the other rather important side of why I initially started this blog a good eight years ago: to write about all the things I love about horse racing – the sport, the horses, the global aspect of the game!

So, with the new year still fresh, I gonna try to be a bit more (pro-) active: a few more insightful (hopefully!) columns, opinion pieces, educational stuff and so on – starting with the introduction of a new weekly column right here:

The Good, Bad & Ugly – a short review of all the good and not so good things in racing that caught my eye and lit up my emotions during the past week. Let’s get started with Week #1:2019!

good.pngThe Good:

Do It Again – he did it again, indeed! This imperious looking son of the great Twice Over and reigning Durban July champion, has followed up on his biggest triumph with another massive success.

On Saturday he was one of nine starters in South Africa’s premier 1 mile race, the Queen’s Plate, that took place at Kenilworth racecourse.

The powerful gelding overcame a slow pace and produced another stunning performance to get his head in front when it mattered most:


The Candy Man
– What a lovely name for a horse, isn’t it? The performance of this lad in a Handicap on Sunday at Australia’s Sunshine Coast was certainly as sweet as candy!

The grey missed the start completely, still standing in the gates while the others flew out to race. He was trailing the field by half a dozen lengths for half the race, until making a swift move to the rear of the field as the pace slowed. He then unleashed a devastating turn of foot in the home straight – WOW!

Watch a replay of this unreal performance here.

First winner of 2019 – It was the perfect start: first bet, first winner! Paparazzi strolled home on Wednesday in a Newcastle handicap to win as easy as he liked, despite a 12/1 price tag.

It’s those magic moments when the picture you painted in your mind beforehand comes to fruition in reality, as I concluded in the preview:

“This is the poorest opposition Paparazzi will encounter for quite some time. If a slow start doesn’t see him falling back too far too early he should run a huge race today.”

bad2The Bad:

Racing’s Staff Crisis – Becomes one of the biggest threats to the industry. It was reported over the weekend that there’s an estimated shortfall of around 1,000 staff in the UK. Brexit fears enhance the feeling of uncertainty in relation to employing foreign staff to offset the shortfall in yards.

Often long hours, not enough off-days and low pay – those are the main concerns brought forward. Understandably so: the stable staff is preparing the horses day in day out, hence they play a pivotal role in the industry.

If they can’t be retained in numbers enough to keep the show going, plus if the jobs aren’t attractive enough for new people to join, then the game is in incredible danger. Falling prize-money surely isn’t helping, particularly for smaller yards it adds even more pressure.

A viscous cycle: working long hours, physical work, often starting very early in the morning, ordinary pay at best – that isn’t attractive to a lot of young people these days.

Stable staff does it for the love of horses. Without this love and duty of care for the welfare of our equine athletes these wonderful people show any given day, horse racing would be long gone.

Add to this the rather low pay at times where everything else becomes more expensive and the possibility of Brexit which could make it harder for yards to employ foreign staff – there you have an existential crisis.

It was surprising to see it so blatantly called out by the biggest names in the sport over the weekend. Nicky Henderson commented that the threat is no longer only a threat but  it “has already become a reality”.

Now, not everything is black and white. Not all staff are impacted by issues the same way. Plenty love their job, enjoy their day to day doing, are paid well enough and feel treated fairly.

Not all, though, and there is, no doubt, a balanced and fair discussion needed right now – a solution oriented one that addresses issues. Because the issue of staff shortage is at the heart of the game.

badThe Ugly:

 A Bad Loss – “I’m excited as heck because I feel Blue Harmony could be supremely well handicapped in this race!”

I got that spectacularly wrong. Blue Harmony finished nearly last, never went a yard. There was zero confidence in the market either. The filly was obviously not as well in as I felt she is.

Well, that’s racing. Can happen. It was a 16/1 shot. But it hurts. Particularly if you go and shout it so loud as I did in my preview.

Irish racing video archive – Gone. Since Racing TV has taken over the rights to show Irish racing, the complete video archive of all races prior to 1st January 2019 are no longer accessible – neither on ATR, the Racing Post- and Sportinglife website and certainly not on the RTV site.

You couldn’t make it up, could you? They had months and months time to prepare for this transition. But they didn’t seem to think about this rather important piece – or shall we say didn’t care – which shows a complete disregard for the racing public.

Please also read my latest opinion piece on the matter: Racing’s Problems bigger than ATR vs RTV

Got your own ideas of what was good or not so good in the the last week? Want to share feedback? Let me know in the comments! 

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Big Race Preview: Durban July 2018

Igugu_blog

South Africa’s most prestigious race intrigues year after year with a a massive field size including at least two handful of runners you can all see playing their part in the outcome of the race. A tricky contest to work out and one where favourites have a hard time.

The winner paid 17/1 or bigger the last three editions alone, and the last two years no single figure priced horses even made it into the money. Tactics pay an important part but the pace angle is one that used to gather little traction in the discussions leading up to the big race in the past, I feel.

Different this time. It’s the discussion topic number one. A muddling affair is feared. That will make life tough for those who come from behind naturally or those who end up in rear due to their wide draw.

It also poses a difficult decision for those jockey sitting on horses who need a proper stamina test but who are drawn wide or who wouldn’t naturally like to be too close to the pace.

Either way, the hot favourite African Night Sky from the powerful Justin Snaith yard may well be the most talented individual in the race but is clearly a price to forget. He stays the trip and had an excellent preparation, however his tendency to miss the break on occasions plus the need to be dropped in will make life incredibly tough for the four-year old gelding.

My eyes are firmly set on his stable mate Made To Conquer, instead. What can go wrong with a name like that?! In seriousness, this supremely talented son of Dynasty has been coming through the ranks, improving bit by bit while showing excellent desire combined with the ability to change gear.

Made To Conquer has been winning four on the trot. Albeit largely in much lower grade. The progressive gelding took his time, though since September last year he won six of his seven starts and showed a step up in class to graded company isn’t a problem when landing the Grade 3 Stirrup Cup off a big weight. Officially only a head between himself and multiple Stakes winner Strathdon, Made To Conquer held the stable mate under a hands and heels ride rather easily.

A step up to the highest level is only the right consequence. Made To Conquer is a staying type. He already won over 2.500 meters. So, dropping down to the 2.200 meters in the July is a slight question mark, particularly in the light of the predicted pace.

That says, despite a wider than ideal draw, it is likely that Jeff Lloyd will make plenty of use of the featherweight and the stamina his mount possesses and march forward early on to be close enough to the pace and take it up if needed. This is as much as he said himself: he ain’t gonna sit around.

If he holds true to this then Made To Conquer will surely be in the right position – which nearly always in the July is closer to the pace than too far off. Lloyd can send him on his way hitting top gear entering the home straight confidently knowing the gelding will stay all day long and clearly relishes having a fight on hands too.

For Jeff Lloyd it would bring an incredibly career in the saddle to a fairytaile ending. The 56 year old has never won the July despite being a six-times South African champion jockey. It’s going to be one last hurray before retirement beckons right after.

Selection:
10pts win – Made To Conquer @ 9/1 Sky

Sunday Selections: April, 1st 2018

DSC_1452

Hawkbill (11/1) makes the day! A superb front-running ride by William Buick, who rode his jockey colleagues to sleep, saw Hawkbill striding home nearly gate to wire.

As much brilliance as it was from Buick, as surprising it was that some of the finest jockey talent around, did let him get his own way up front so easily. I take it, as one turf closer to home things didn’t quite go to plan as hoped.

……….

2.05 Southwell: Class 6 Handicap, 7f

Despite still chasing this elusive maiden win after 22 starts I do feel Iconic Figure may have found a golden opportunity here in race. He clearly enjoys the Southwell fibresand given the way how well he usually travelles and that he has achieved some of his best career performances here.

He was second and third respectively in his most recent starts earlier this months. Coming off a small break he finished a good runner-up over CD, chasing home Poppy May – who’s here today as well off 3lb higher – who got first run, which was decisive.

Only two days later Iconic Figure reappeared, dropping to 6f. From those up with the pace he was pretty much the only one finishing the race, ending up in third eventually – bar the eventual winner, who, however, seemed to have tons in hand that day.

The slightly longer trip should suit better. A perfect draw and coming here in fine form with a good 5lb claimer in the saddle, Iconic Figure could get finally this first iconic career victory on the board.

Selection:
10pts win – Iconic Figure @ 8/1 VC

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.

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

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.