Tag Archives: South Africa

Betting Preview: G1 Cape Town Met 2023

A Met for the ages – South Africa’s premier race over the 2.000m distance is full of star quality: 11 Grade 1 winners line up!

That includes last years first three home, plus the reigning Durban July champion, with the added excitement of top-class 3-year-old contenders taking on their elders.

As exciting as the field is, as underwhelming is the likely pace scenario. Few want to race close up, even fewer are confirmed front-runners. This could turn out to be a muddling affair and makes the analysis of the race tricky.

Make It Snappy: all week the favourite for the race. Ever since she won the Fillies’ Grade 1 Paddock Stakes three weeks ago, beating wonder mare Captain’s Ransom nicely from the front.

She is likely to move forward. She likes to have her own way from the front. The #2 draw is a great help. The trip isn’t a worry, she stays but has shown to have the speed to win Guineas.

The filly will get the ideal trip. She is the prime contender with her ultra-light weight. Fillies have a strong record in this race, too. The only question mark: is she good enough against the big boys?

Her merit rating, if factored in WFA and fillies’ allowance, says she very much is. No doubt, Make It Snappy is the one to beat.

Jet Dark: the second highest rated horse in the race. A class-act, with four Grade 1 victories to his name, he has got stellar form from the mile all the way to the July trip, where finished a fast finishing runner-up last year.

He’s likely to be primed for his final race before heading to stud, although is prep didn’t go totally to plan. Perhaps that was the reason why he only managed to finish 3rd in the King’s Plate earlier this month, a race he won back-to-back the years prior.

In saying that, the King’s Plate was an incredibly competitive renewal, and there was no shame to finish 3rd behind Charles Dickens and shock winner Al Muthana. On the other hand, a 1.5 lengths defeat, may show that he isn’t quite the force he used to be?

Kommetdieding: the defending champion. Won this race ahead of Jet Dark 12 months ago. The ultra-professional, consistent horse, a Durban July winner, will head to stud right after this race as well.

His prep couldn’t have gone much better, one would think. After a pipe opener over 6 furlongs, he ran lovely races in the Green Point Stakes as well as when 4th in the King’s Plate, less than two lengths beaten.

He is a better horse over this 2.000m trip, though, hence it’s noteworthy how well he ran over the shorter distances leading up to this race.

The 5-year-old looks as good as ever. He sets the standard in this field. Even though he hasn’t won since landing the Met last year, he ran mostly to a high level of form.

What’s intriguing about him is the ability to race up with the pace. He has a solid low draw, and is one of the few in this field likely to get the ideal trip. He’ll probably track Make It Snappy all the way, and then it will be a matter of how good the filly is.

Cousin Casey: the other three-year-old in this field. he was an outstanding juvenile, won the Premiers Champions Stakes and has returned in fine form this season, landing a Grade 3, before only finding Charles Dickens too strong in the Cape Guineas.

That performance warrants and upgrade, as he didn’t get an ideal race from a wide draw, and he made his challenge against the inside rail, while not having the clearest of runs.

He could improve for the step up in trip and clearly has the speed to feature strongly. His wide draw and likely racing position off the pace will make life tricky for Grant Van Niekerk, though.

Others Runners: he was 80/1 on the day, three weeks ago in the King#s Plate – is it a mistake to underestimate Al Muthana again? He caused the major upset in the King’s Plate, and is once again a longshot today. In truth, though, this 2.000m trip isn’t his optimum, and he will need luck from his draw.

Reigning Durban July heroine Sparkling Water seems to hit peak form after some solid prep runs. This trip is more what she wants as well. If they go hard up front then she would have a much better chance, though. In a slowly run race she may struggle.

Linebacker was third in the Met last year. he seems to have lost his way a little bit and is hard to fancy if judged on recent form. Rascallion won the Grade 2 Anthonij Rupert Wyne Premier Trophy three weeks ago. The additional furlong may stretch him, but even more than the trip it’s gonna be #17 draw that is a real issue today.

Last years Cape Derby runner-up Universal has only run three times since then. He seems to hit form at the right time, having performed well as a runner-up in the Green-Point Stakes and when less than a lengths behind Rascallion recently.

Veteran Do It Again has been around for a long time. He still runs to a good standard consistently. If his past record is a guide, though, he will struggle over this course and distance.

It’s hard to make a serious case for any other horse in the field. Zapatillas, last years Guineas winner is equally hard to fancy as it last years Cape Derby hero Pomp And Power, who seems to have lost some of his zest.

Christophe Soumillon is riding Golden Ducat from the #1 gate. The 7-year-old is a good deal off his past 128 Merit Rating; certainly on current form. However, if he sits close to the pace, he’s perhaps a surprise place chance.

Verdict:

This is all about the filly Make It Snappy and how much she can improve now that is going to meet the boys – and very much the absolute best of South Africa’s older horses.

She will get the run of the race and with that in mind 7/2 is a fair price. There is some 4/1 on the Exchanges, and that looks a touch over the top, even.

At the same time, this improvement is very much factored into the price. With that in mind, all week I was hoping to get inflated odds for the defending champion Kommetdieding.

His price went only one way all week, hence I was even more delighted to find Starsports offering a generous 6/1. That is about two points bigger than I would have imagined him to be.

Kommetdieding is likely to enjoy a near perfect race too. A good draw, he can sit handily, track the pace, and then from 500m out, will be asked for his effort, which will be as honest as ever. He doesn’t stop, he races hard to the line.

10pts win – Kommetdieding @ 6/1

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Photo Credit TBD

Kenilworth Selections: King’s Plate Day 2023

A brilliant day of racing at Kenilworth today: two competitive Grade 2’s, and two hot Grade 1 contests, including the King’s Plate. Christophe Soumillon is also here, back in the saddle for the first time since THE incident.

We will see the mouthwatering clash of wonder mare Captain’s Ransom going against the up an coming 3-year-old Make It Snappy, with Durban July winner Sparkling Water thrown in for good measure in the Grade 1 Paddock Stakes.

Obviously the Queen’s Plate and the return of Charles Dickens is what everyone wants to see. I am desperately exciting to find out whether this colt is the superstar he promises to be.

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2.10 – Grade 1 King’s Plate, 1 mile

The race everyone has been waiting for: superstar 3-year-old colt Charles Dickens takes on the best of South Africa’s older horses to find whether he truly is the real deal, the best in a long time, perhaps ever, as he promised to be in his six most scintillating career runs to date.

Before we get to crown Charles Dickens the king – how fitting for the new name of race after the death of the British queen – it must be said this years King’s Plate is packed with superstar older horses. This won’t be a walk in the park.

The Runners:

Jet Dark: won this race the last two years in a row. The best miler/middle-distance horse in South Africa at the moment. Comes here fresher than others not having seen since winning a Grade 3 in early November.

Looked as good as ever there, after winning two Grade 1’s last year and ran a huge race in the Durban July as runner-up over a trip that stretched his stamina to the limits. Would be hot favourite without Charles Dickens in the race.

Kommetdieding – commonly known as the “people’s horse”. The 2021 Durban July winner, and last years Met winner. Didn’t win again since last January’s Met success, but often fought heroically in defeat.

Had a lovely prep run in the Green Point Stakes. Will need this to run at a red hot pace. He’s better over further, could be found out for speed today.

Golden Ducat – won in 2020 the Cape Derby and Champion Cup. Usually competitive but probably just below top level these days, especially over a mile. Solid prep run in the Green Point, though.

Linebacker – Memories of his spectacular 3-year-old season fading fast. In 2021 he won the Guineas, Cape Derby and Daily News. Bit unlucky in the Durban July the last two years, but certainly better over 10 furlongs than a mile against the very best.

Trip Of Fortune – won three of his last four and seems still progressing. Took his form to new heights when landing the slowly run Green Point Stakes last time out, a first success over a mile. Will need it to be a dawdle again to feature.

Also running are last years Guineas winner Zapatillas, who only has been seen once since that May victory. Will find this too hot, most likely. Al Muthana makes more appeal as a place chance if he could run anywhere near last June’s G1 Gold Challenge Cup winning form. Hard to make a case for Russian Rock and Speed Machine.

Charles Dickens:

Unbeaten in six starts, he quickly has become the hottest equine property South African racing has seen in a long time. He’s already compared to the legendary Variety Club, and many think as good, if not potentially better, than the monster that was Horse Chestnut.

You can see why: from 5 furlongs to a mile Charles Dickens managed to win. Bar a slightly scary debut over the minimum trip, when he was still seriously green, he been the most impressive horse ever since.

Certainly since landing the Grade 3 Cape Classic on the bridle he looked to be something special. Last month the son of Trippi stepped up to a mile and up into Grade 1 company in the Cape Guineas. He had to answer two questions: does he stay the trip, and can he prove against the best 3-year-old colts?

He very much did. Even though he was a bit keen early on, he travelled sweetly well off the pace, was covered up until two furlongs from home, before pulled out wide.

What happened then was simply sensational. He destroyed his rivals with a devastating turn of foot to win handsomely by 4¼; but he could have won by the lengths of the straight if ridden out.

Charles Dickens looks a freak. He’s, no doubt the best colt I have seen in a very long time. Obviously I love a good colt from South Africa, have a soft spot for the racing there. This lad is special.

Yes, he’s got to prove it today. He takes on the very best. Jet Dark is a brilliant horse. If he can beaten him, then all the hype will be more than warranted.

I believe with the weight allowance Charles Dickens has in his favour today and the level of performances he has shown so far, he’s nearly unbeatable today. I don’t say this lightly.

Backing him at close to 1/2 isn’t a serious bet, I must say. It’s simply one I want to do because I want to be on this horse. It’s pure emotion…. Fly Charles Dickens…. fly.

10pts win – Charles Dickens @ 1.55

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1.00 – G2 Anthonij Rupert Wyne Premier Trophy, 9f

13 go to post. This is super competitive. Not my type of race. There a few that caught the eye in their latest run, and there is, of course, star veteran Do It Again. Can he do it again? He sets the standard, still, but is an 8-year-old now.

Last years Cape Derby win Pomp And Power is probably the most talented individual, though, his behavioural issues are well documented. he ran poorly the last two, and the words from the yard that some of the fire isn’t quite there as it used to, is a concern.

On form Universal is the one to beat. Won over this course and distance in grade 3 company last year, and improved nicely for a tame comeback run when last seen an excellent runner-up in the Grade Green Point Stakes. He’s likely to get an ideal trip. Not much not to like, except that he rarely finishes strong, and could be vulnerable to a fast finisher.

That could be the one I am seriously sweet on: Airways Law. I backed him as a longshot in the Durban July last summer, when he came into South Africa’s Premier race as an unproven, yet exciting improver.

He ran a massive race that day, finishing 6th from off the pace, making fantastic progress in the final 3 furlongs. He ran the 4th fastest split for final 400m, only 0.2s slower than fastest finisher, class act Jet Dark, despite getting quite tiered in the the last 100 yards.

Sure, the low weight helped, but he ran on well against a pace bias, and it showed he can mix it with the best horses.

Leading up to the July he won three on the bounce, mainly on the All-Weather. Doing so in the most exciting style thanks to a devastating turn of foot. He is a strong traveller, who can change gear in an instant. In 7 of his 10 career runs did he clock the fastest final 400m splits.

Still quit unexposed on turf, this will only be his fifth start on grass, although, he’s already a Grade 3 winner on the surface over the 9f trip.

After the July he got a nice break, returned in December in a Grade 2 Handicap over this CD. He made a bit of late headway, but it was clear the run was badly needed.

He should strip much fitter and one would think connections have eyed this race. Jockey Gareth Wright is back in the saddle too – knows this horse really well from riding all five wins.

One could argue Airways Law has a bit to find with the very best here on the weights. However, I think there is good chance he can still improve a bit. He’s a super price to find out whether he’s a good one in this class.

10pts win – Airways Law @ 14/1

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1.35 – Grade 1 Paddock Stakes, 9f

Superstar filly Captain’s Ransom is a short price favourite to land her 14th career victory in then 17 starts. An outstanding record, especially against her own sex she is tough to beat. She also loves Kenilworth.

But 9 furlongs is close to her stamina limit. She has won this race last year, but her very best comes over shorter and this looks a strong renewal. In her favour maybe the lack of pace. At prices I am happy to take her on, as she isn’t getting younger, either.

Sparkling Water the reigning Durban July champion hasn’t been quite that good in two runs since, and this trip is on the sharp side for her.

More appeal makes 5-year-old Marina. She is 4 from 7 over this course and distance and had a lovely prep. She is a big runner.

She was beaten back in November, however, in the Summer Bowl by rapidly improving 3-year-old filly Make It Snappy. There is 4.5kg turnaround in the weights, but the younger rival only races for the fifth time today and steps up in trip to 1.900m for the first time.

When last seen, she won the Fillies’ Guineas in fine style, which followed her Summer Bowl victory. She sees out a mile really well and as a daughter of Dynasty should have the required stamina for the additional furlong.

Her dam’s only other offspring won over 9 furlongs as well, so I don’t see an issue with the trip, at all. Her prominent racing style should be an advantage in a race where not many want to move forward, I reckon.

She can kick nicely from the front, as seen in the Bowl, where she ran the final 400m the fastest, despite having made all.

Of course she has to prove that she truly belongs here, now taking on the best older fillies. However, she is improving all the time, is nicely bred for the job, and with the WFA allowance could be hard to beat I believe. I’d make her a 2/1 shot in this field.

10pts win – Make It Snappy @ 7/2

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Picture Copyright: CANDIESE LENFERNA

Saturday Selections: 26th November 2022

7.20 Wolverhampton: Class 6 Handicap, 7f

Many will want to get position close to the pace. I’m tracking Eye Of the Water for a few weeks now, but still feel this isn’t quite the right race given the draw, and likely hot pace over this trip.

The filly Making Music looks much better handicapped an here with a huge chance from her #1 draw. It’s easy to forgive her latest poor showing over a trip too far.

She pulled hard over shorter, so it was no surprise to see her fading badly when stepping up to 9.5 furlongs. She lead soon crossing over from the widest draw but ran her race as the field approached the home turn.

I feel the 3-year-old is better judged on the Kempton run before, which caught my eye.

Even there over a mile, she was quite keen, not helped in that regard by the application for blinkers for the first time. Nonetheless, she travelled well into home straight, tracking the pace in third. She made her move from 2f out, which petered out inside final furlong. Most likely she paid for early exertions, still finished well in third.

Making Music is most likely a bit better than her current mark. Her reference performance is the August 2nd place at this venue over a mile, when she ran to topspeed 63 off a 64 mark, and the form has been significantly franked in the meantime.

Today she is down to a mark off 59 today. As she drops to 7 furlongs, the blinkers remain on, from an ideal #1 draw, she should be quite well handicapped in these circumstances.

She should be able to get an ideal handy position. The likely hot pace should help her to settle. It’s always a risk to back a 10-race maiden, but she is on the right mark, in the right race today.

10pts win – Making Music @ 12/1

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1.35 Turffontein: Group 1 Summer Cup, 10f

Exciting race this afternoon over at Turffontein, South Africa. 2022 Durban July heroine Sparkling Water bids for Grade 1 glory, after a highly satisfying comeback run three weeks ago.

She was such an impressive – albeit slightly surprisingly easy – winner of South Africa’s premier race. Everything worked to perfection that day. Judged on that effort, if in the same form, she’s obviously the one beat.

But, over the shorter 2.000m trip I have to oppose her, especially in this hot contest, where she also has to carry a lot more weight now, than the light weight she enjoyed at Durban.

No question, the one I am keen to her oppose her with is stable Mate Safe Passage. Especially as the odds are much bigger than I’d have ever thought you’d get for him. He’s overpriced, in my book.

Let’s not forget Safe Passage went off 2nd favourite for the July, after an ultra impressive success in the Grade 1 Daily News a couple of weeks prior, that catapulted him to the top of the market in the days leading up to the big race.

He enjoyed an incredibly season up to that point: winner of the Dingaans and Gauteng Guineas, runner-up in the Cape Derby and then that victory in the Daily News, off a nearly three months long break, which was only meant to be a prep.

This is a highly talented colt, who continuously progressed with experience, and reportedly has physically improved since July, too. He had a good comeback run in the meantime, when clearly minded in the closing stages.

I have no doubt, despite having been beaten by over three lengths in the Durban July, Safe Passage is more talented than Sparkling Water, in fact he’s the best horse over ten furlongs in South Africa. The turnaround in the weights is, beside the trip, another advantage, he’s got over Sparkling Water, today.

Looking back at the July, it’s clear things didn’t really worked out for him that day. From a wild start, to not getting the clearest of run in the home straight, to possibly having done too much too soon in the race, to truly stay the additional furlong.

The draw today is a bit wider than ideal, but it shouldn’t matter too much either. As long as there is a solid pace, Safe Passage should be able to produce his trademark turn of foot and off a fair weight could have too much to offer for the rest of the field.

Obviously with 17 other runners in the field, this could easily become messy, and someone could spring a surprise. Yet, it’s hard to ignore this rather generous price for the most likely most talented horse in South Africa, who’s fit, in good form over a trip and track he loves.

10pts win – Safe Passage @ 5.7

Durban July Preview 2022

It’s D-Day! Durban July Day. The first Saturday in Jule – time for South Africa’s biggest race. It’s also the ever exciting clash of the younger versus the older. 2022 shapes as the most compelling renewal of this special battle.

Last years winner Kommetdieding is here to defend his crown. A year older, a year wiser? Certainly a few kilos heavier. A featherweight of 53kg carried him to victory twelve month ago. 7 Kilos more, about 15lb more to carry today doesn’t make it an easy task to go back to back.

He didn’t have an ideal prep leading into the July, but showed his class when winning the Cape Town Met, the premier Weight-For-Age contest, over 2000m earlier in January. He also impressed in the public gallops this week.

The 2021 runner-up Linebacker is here too. He ran a huge race in defeat. Although, he seemed to run out of energy in the final 100 metres. Nine furlongs just stretches him to the max.

He hasn’t won in over year, but ran well against tough competition. He comes into the race with a good weight and will be a huge runner. A possibly slow pace will be to his benefit.

Two-times July champion Do It Again is now a 7-year-old. Can he do it again? He was desperately unlucky last year. He looks in great shape and should run another strong race.

Many argue Pomp And Power is the most talented horse in South Africa at the moment. Watching him win the Cape Derby earlier this year certainly leaves a lasting impression.

He ran with plenty of credit in defeat in the Guineas and Daily News 2000 too. There is only one big problem: he’s got a mind of his own. He can pull his races away in the first couple of furlongs, as he’s done now a number of times lately.

There will be a lack of pace today and that is a real concern. In the gallops this week he looked as unruly as ever and it’s hard to see him lasting the trip. If the Snaith team somehow found a magical fix in the last few days to get him drop his head him he wins today. It’s hard to see, though.

Aragosta is one of the four chances for Mike De Kock. A talented 3-year-old. A Grade 1 winner over further than the July trip. He hang his chances away in the Daily News when last seen. But he impressed how he won the SA Derby and is likely to come on for the recent run.

His speed rating is one of the lowest coming into this race but he’s got the #1 draw and should be able to be in the right place at the right time when the field turns for home. He was my ante-post selection at 16/1 but having been unable to back him with any bookie who offered early odds I have to leave alone him today, now that he’s significantly shorter.

Jet Dark has top-class form over shorter. He ran on well in the Gold Challenge from off the pace after pulling quite hard early on. I struggle to see the appeal stepping up to 11 furlongs, though. He looks a miler, at best can push out to 10 furlongs, but the additional distance will be a struggle.

Al Muthana produced a career best in the Gold Challenge to beat strong opposition thanks to a nice turn of foot. If he can stay the additional furlong he is in with a huge chance. De Kock said they will “ride him for luck”. I’m not sure luck is enough to carry him to victory.

The filly Sparkling Water is well fancied after a narrow defeat in the Champions Challenge back in April. She travelled notably well that day and didn’t quite get the clearest of runs. But ultimately she is what she is and doesn’t look classy enough over this shorter trip I feel, especially with the expectation of a slow pace surely not playing to her strengths.

The winner of the Champions Challenge, Astrix, is an interesting longshot here again, but ultimately he is the price he is for a good reason.

The talk of town is Hoedspruit as potentially the best handicapped horse in the race. He lacks the class of the best and was found under WFA terms on the big occasions. But the July is a Handicap and that makes him a compelling runner.

He ran well in the Met against the best older horses giving tons of weight away on ratings. He didn’t stood a real chance but didn’t get the best of runs either that day and finished easily in 6th only 4.25 lengths beaten.

He meets the likes of Kommetdieding and Linebacker on much better terms today, receiving lumps of weight. He won a Grade 2 over 9 furlongs earlier this year and was seen after the Met only once, for his July prep. He caught the eye when dropping back to a mile and producing a lovely change of gear from the back of the field to finish much the strongest.

Justin Snaith clearly protected his handicap mark this season, always having the July in mind. He’s not a superstar, but clearly tremendously well-handicapped if one believes he can improve by a couple of pounds.

The dark horse of the race is Airways Law. He only got into the race yesterday. He was first reserve after Zapatillas became a non-runner. He won the designated Cup Trial in June, having improved quite dramatically starting out as a 68 rated handicapper only in October last year.

He won three on the bounce, having ran mostly on the Greyville polytrack, where he produced some stunning performances thanks to a potent turn of foot.

Switched to turf for the Dolphins Cup Trial he prevailed in fine style, bringing his form to the next level. Subsequently supplemented for the July, he missed the cut initially as the Handicapper didn’t award him a rating high enough to get into the field. Now he’s here, racing off 53kg. He’s effectively out of the weights given his official mark of 108, though.

Certainly no dark horse is favourite Safe Passage. His ultra-impressive Daily News 2000 victory propelled him to the top of the market. Far from fully tuned up, as De Kock alluded to before the race, he clearly surprised his trainer that day and one could not be impressed with his rapid acceleration in the closing stages of the Grade 1 contest over 2000 metres.

Many wonder what can he do if fully fit? He showed plenty of talent winning the Dingaans as a 2-year-old and the Gauteng Guineas earlier this year.

The son of Silvano keeps improving all the time and even though he has to give 1.5kg to the other 3-year-olds he looks very much capable of being even further ahead of them. He is the favourite for all the right reasons.

There are a few question marks over the trip, though. Whether he fully stays the additional furlong remains to be seen. His sire gives him a chance. His dam raises questions. The fact the pace won’t be blistering will give him every chance to do so, nonetheless.

Selection:
From the older horses Linebacker makes the most appeal. He looks prepped all season long for the July. Safe Passage is the most likeliest winner in my book, nonetheless.

But from a betting perspective I bet the risk and possible reward that Hoedspruit is a bit better than his 116 rating. The son of 2014 July winner Legislate has to find a bit of improvement, there is no question about it. But the swing in the weights is very much in his favour if he can. He is a big, strong, galloping horse. He can travel and he can accelerate.

I’ halve my stake, though, because I’m sweet on Airways Law, too. I was hoping he would get in to the July, and thankfully he did. He has to improve even more so than Hoedspruit. But he’s quite unexposed over this trip and on turf. He’s a son of Legislate, too.

I simply love a strong traveller. And he is certainly that. But he also finds tons when asked to go and win a race. This lad looks potentially a bit special. Granted, he has a lot to find with the best. He may not be good enough. It’s risk and reward.

5pts win – Hoedspruit @ 14/1
5pts win – Airways Law @ 30/1

Saturday Night Thoughts

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A busy Saturday full of intriguing racing action is behind us. Some thoughts on the things that stood out me.

Kameko Wins 2000 Guineas

He appeared to be a rock solid chance beforehand but turned out to be the very best in a deep 2000 Guineas field: Kameko came late to the party with only the final furlong left to go when finally challenging for the lead. Eventually the son of Kitten’s Joy beat the Ballydoyle “money horse” Wichita… and he did it with a bit of authority.

I felt beforehand that Kameko should be a big player if he improves in a way one would hope he can as a three-year-old, given his consistent (particularly on the clock) and strong performances as a juvenile.

The fast pace surely suited him but that doesn’t mean he got it easy. In fact he had to fight for room and a clear passage. Over two furlongs out Oisin Murphy pulled Kameko out in what was quite a violent move, which in turn hampered Kinross rather significantly, who it seemed to my eyes, was just about to hit top gear and fighting to get through a gap himself.

Once in the clear, though, Kameko stayed on strongly, suggesting he will get further – which puts my suggestion that he has miler “written all over” him pretty much to shame.

What does hold true: he falls into the bracket of late foals that seemingly improve during the summer months exponentially, which rather nicely proves the point I made in my race preview that the later date of this years 2000 Guineas will have a profound impact on what type of horse it suits best.

A first British Classic success for Oisin Murphy – it was coming sooner rather than later. Derby next for Kameko? It would be a shame if not.

As for “my boy” Kinross: he raced a lot closer to a brisk pace – at least early on in the race – than I would have anticipated. He lost ground in the middle part, finding it all a bit too hot.

When it looked his race is over, Harry Bentley seemed to galvanize him once more which meant Kinross started to make progress and was about to be moving through an opening gap with about two furlongs to go.

It was then that the accelerating Kameko suddenly cut across and as a consequence hampered Kinross badly, who lost vital momentum. One could also argue Kameko was simply faster moving through the same gap Kinross wanted to get through too.

The drift in the betting to 20/1 SP was evidence that there was little confidence in his chances. So it looks he may not be quite as good as I have hoped. Nonetheless I still think he can become a top class horse. He finished 6th in a deep 2000 Guineas despite being badly hampered, though possibly need the step up to 10 furlongs to be seen to best effect. I retain hope.

Richard Hughes Calls Out Racingpost

If those from within the industry start to call you out it’s time to finally listen and step up. It’s clear that people are fed up with the substandard product the Racingpost is producing. What were usually disgruntled racing fans, now starts to spread to people from within the sport. That must be a real concern for the Racingpost.

I concluded as much last week that the paper is devoid of original content. If you charge £3.90/€4.20 for a daily paper that operates in a niche segment that is horse racing you better offer tremendous value – i.e. quality content – to justify such a steep price tag.

Tough Times for Ryan Moore

He’s one of the best, if not THE best jockey on the planet. But even Ryan Moore is a human being (seriously!). In fact he’s as human as any other jockey in that he can go through a bad run of form from time to time. Which is what he’s doing right now.

Racing is only back for less than a full week but Ryan Moore has clearly angered a lot punters judging by my Twitter feed.

The numbers look bleak: 21 rides, 1 winner. However, the reason for this may be as simple as he didn’t ride a lot of good horses. In fact, ten of his rides came on horses that went off 9/1 or bigger – some at much bigger odds even. Only one was a favourite: and won.

Hawwaam Is Back

I absolutely loved seeing the almighty South African superstar Hawwaam back (or close to) his best this afternoon. He won the Grade 1 Horse Chestnut Stakes at Turffontein in fine style where he was travelling strongly throughout and putting the race to bed rather easily in the end.

After two defeats in Cape Town where issues of travelling and settling in his new surroundings may have hindered him to show his very best, as trainer Mike De Kock suggested, the four-year-old clearly enjoyed his return to Turffontein, bagging a fifth Grade 1!

Rough Betting Days

Racing is back and been quite successful for me personally from a punting perspective. Three bigger priced winners from six bets before Friday. Brilliant!

Then came Friday. A bit of a shocker. Then came Saturday. Brutal. All bets lost. That in itself isn’t a problem. That’s what naturally happens if you back the big prices I do – 6 losing bets – isn’t the end of the world and doesn’t bother me. Normally.

What does bother me is if I don’t follow my Golden Rules of betting on horses. When I let myself down making poor choices and decisions guided by emotions and “gut feeling” and not by hard facts. When I know full well the horse is unlikely to be well handicapped but still follow through to back the “fancy”. Memo to myself: make better decisions. No bet no problem.

A Weekend To Remember

What a roller-coaster week. Culminating in an emotional and dramatic weekend that included a 16/1 winning selection for the 1000 Guineas as well as a winner in the Kentucky Derby that was no winner half an hour later and a superstar on the other side of the globe far too few people have heard of yet!

Throw in a couple of unlucky 2nd places and a 2000 Guineas result that left me wonder “what if” and you’ve certainly got a few days to remember!

2000 Guineas: What Draw Bias?!

Horses loading for the first Classic of the 2019 flat season, a last few words from Johnny Murtagh on ITV: he’s now leaning toward Magna Grecia based on his observation of the existence of a draw bias in favour of the stands-side.

A few minutes later Twitter was running hot as Magna Grecia passed the line in front of everyone else, indeed. The colt trained by Aiden O’Brien – of course – won the battle of his small group on the stand-side, far away from the rest of the field, comfortably. And because his side was always ahead throughout the race he won the 2000 Guineas rather comfortably in the end.

My selection Skardu ran a massive race and finished 3rd, winning the race in his much larger group. I guess, ideally we wouldn’t have this discussion now and instead we’d have seen a “fair” race. But this is racing. Happened in the past. Will happen again.

Whether there was a draw bias I am not so sure. Most likely there was a pace bias, though. And this had the most profound impact on the outcome of the race. This is certainly something that occurs any given day. If you’re drawn close to the pace and you follow it you always have a better chance of winning than not.

Smarter people will be able to explain all the exact reasons behind it in greater detail than I can or want right now. But that is a racing fact.

On balance I believe – at least over 1 mile – there is little between Magna Grecia and Skardu, and possibly Madhmoon. Will we see a re-match at the Curragh in a few weeks time? Magna Grecia is bound for the first Irish Classic. Wouldn’t it be nice to see these three meet there again? I’d love to see that!

Derby Delight Turns Sour

I live for these big races. The anticipation building over the whole day leading up to the moment when the gates crash open – pure excitement!

Normally I’m neither too high nor too low watching bred and butter racing, regardless of betting, the winning or the losing. Big races get my blood flowing, though.

Getting up at 3am in the morning for the Melbourne Cup? No bother. I can’t sleep anyway because of all the butterflies in my stomach!

The Kentucky Derby is one of my favourite races of the entire year. The occasion, build-up and atmosphere transported thanks to the outstanding NBC coverage is simply stunning.

No different this Saturday night. I was cheering home my selection Maximum Security with passion – surely the neighbours enjoyed it too – pumping the first in the air as the colt crossed the line ahead of everyone else. And who wouldn’t? A 9/1 winner in the Kentucky Derby is something to shout about!

Then the dreaded words: “objection lodged…. hold on to your tickets”. What follows are replay after replay dissecting ever aspect of the final three furlongs of the 145 Kentucky Derby. It was obvious Maximum Security was the best horse in the race. The runner-up Country House had no right to be upset with the result. He wasn’t impeded at all!

But it was also obvious Maximum Security impeded other horses when shifting around when turning home. It could resulted in a pretty bad situation on a different day.

Taking that into consideration I can understand the disqualification. And given the strict US rules it probably was the right call in the end.

On the other hand, whether it is truly a fair call to take the race away from the horse that was quite clearly the best one in the race, because of shifting around in an incredibly tight situation, racing on the limit at the end of a tough contest, doing so on a sloppy surface….

After all these are animals, not robots who run straight on rails as if they’d be pre-programmed machines.

It all happens so fast, there are 150.000 people screaming, horses and riders fighting for space, whips flying around…. it’s racing, not chess. These things happen in the sport and the question that needs to be raised in these type of situations is: did the winner got an unfair advantage and did the runner-up lost because of this situation?

The answer is unequivocal NO in this instance.

Ultimately I feel Maximum Security should have kept the race. What a fairytale it would have been. A horse thought to be so bad he started his career in a $16k claimer, going to win the Kentucky Derby…..

The Best Ever? 

South Africa as produced a lot of fantastic race horses over the years. The likes of Variety Club or Igugu come to my mind, in particular. But there is a new kid on the block and he could be the best there ever was in South Africa – some already suggest!

Well, one thing is for sure: Hawwaam is an incredibly exciting colt, with a turn of foot you rarely see produced in such stunning manner. How he races away from his rivals in the closing stages, like it’s the easiest thing in the world, is nothing short of breathtaking.

I took note for the first time – and was immensely impressed –  when Hawwaam stepped into Grade 1 company for the first time in the SA Classic earlier this year as he arguably exploded in the final furlong putting a handful of lengths between himself and the rest in a matter of strides.

He followed up on Saturday in the Grade 1 Champions Challenge when stepping up to the 10 furlongs distance and he couldn’t have been more impressive. How often do you see a horse in a top-level contest travelling hard on the bridle approaching the final furlong and then shooting clear under hands and heels? This horse is special:

On to the Durban July now? He surly will go off a warm favourite. And only luck or the lack of can stop him there I reckon.

How great would it be to see this superstar travel the world?! And what a shame that it remains so difficult for South African horses to travel. In turn it means far too few people get to know these classy horses that race on the other side of the globe.

Wayne Lordan Defies the Stats

He was 1 for 42 rides in the UK for Aiden O’Brien and his mounts went off a 25/1 average SP – Wayne Lordan couldn’t have been an unlikelier hero in the 1000 Guineas today – at least judged by the numbers.

Riding the least fancied of the Ballydoyle string once more, Hermosa was a largely ignored runner coming into the race. You could back her at 20/1+ this morning.

I missed those massive prices, but still got 16s with only a few hours to go to the race when making her my sole selection for the 1000 Guineas.

All credit to Wayne Lordan, though. What superb ride: incredibly brave, at the same time keeping it simple, bouncing the filly out of the stalls sending her straight to the lead, knowing Hermosa would likely stay all day and night long.

And she did! She was gutsy, stuck to her guns when challenged and won well in the end. A supremely well bred filly, adds another big race success to her superstar family, given she is a full-sister to Group 1 winners Hydrangea and The United States.

It brings a hectic week to an end. I had 30 bets. Way too many. I go carried away on Monday in particular but was bailed out by New Show at Windsor, thankfully. 4 winners & 120pts profit this week – the highlight obviously Hermosa.

A week of what would have been. 10 placed horses, multiple of those beaten in tight finishes on the line. A winner in the Kentucky Derby that was taken away half an hour later.

Well…. onwards and upwards. 

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! 

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.