Al Azraq is turning into the Zola Budd of horseracing. He certainly can run but now it seems he does it better without any shoes.
The four-year-old son of Toreador was off the track from Durban July Day on 2 July until 15 December and when he did resurface for that Turffontein meeting, like the SA athlete of the 1980s, it was with “bare feet”. That race was over 1160m and Al Azraq was never in it but still did some good work at the finish to run a 6.15-length sixth behind Mombela.
His next start was in January and again he contested a Graduation Plate at Turffontein but this one was over 1000m. Obviously happy with how his charge ran without shoes, trainer Clinton Binda repeated the exercise but in this case he brought back the blinkers.
The move seemed to work and, despite suffering some interference, Al Azraq ran on well to finish 0.50 lengths behind Raasmaal. Andrew Fortune rode him on that occasion and they will team up once again in Race 4 at the Vaal tomorrow, once again without shoes but with blinkers.
They team up in another Graduation Plate over 1000m but Al Azraq is not the best handicapped runner. That goes to Old Em, who on paper has this race all wrapped up. She is at least 5kg better weighted with any other runner based on her merit rating but one cannot help thinking she is too highly rated.
Trainer Sean Tarry has run her in Graded events. She made her debut in the Grade 3 Pretty Polly Stakes and has also contested the Grade 1 Thekwini Stakes at Greyville. Last time Old Em ran in the Magnolia Stakes but in all three features, she has failed to place. In fact, she has not finished closer than seven lengths to the winner in any of them.
She came out of her two-year-old career rated 90, dropped to 84 but then got penalised 3.5kg for finishing a short-head second to Hollie Point and received another 3.5kg for beating Hollie Point by one length. That put her up to 98 and her first drop comes in this race where she has come down to 96.
She did not perform well against the boys in one previous outing and she will have to run out of her skin to beat them this time.
All Night Flight finished 1.80 lengths behind Raasmaal last time so should be held by Al Azraq yet again but he will have Gavin Lerena in the irons.
Clever Guy is an up-and-coming three-year-old. He looks quite useful but it could be significant that Lerena is aboard All Night Flight.