Abashiri, South Africa’s third Triple Crown winner, is still resting after a hectic three-year-old season and his annual vaccinations, but will be brought back into training in time to do himself justice in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate on 7 January and then go for The Met on 28 January.
“We’ll be prepping him here and flying him in and out for the two races,” his Randjesfontein-based trainer Mike Azzie confirmed yesterday.
Azzie, a normally ebullient man, has been justifiably wary of speaking publicly in recent weeks in spite of having just enjoyed his best season yet, with five Grade 1 wins in 2015-16.
Apart from Abashiri’s heroics in the SA Classic and SA Derby (the last two legs of the Triple Crown), Azzie also won the Daily News 2000 with Rabada and the Thekwini Stakes with Querari Falcon. His other win came at the postponed Gold Cup meeting on 1 August last year when Rabada won the Premier’s Champion Stakes.
Azzie has made himself virtually inaccessible after his chief patron and Abashiri’s owner, Adriaan van Vuuren, was “verbally attacked by a token contributor” after the Durban July.
The subsequent firestorm was adequately covered at the time, but the whole stable has been “flying under the radar” since, with Azzie’s only comment on the issue being: “People should treat others better in this industry.”
He did agree to chat about his plans for Abashiri in the coming season and warned racing fans not to write off the Go Deputy gelding “on the evidence of just one run” – his 13th under a big weight behind The Conglomerate in the Vodacom Durban July.
“Ignore his July run,” he said. “He was a very tired horse after the SA Derby and carried a big weight on a shocking track in the July. He was also lame after we took his bandages off in the unsaddling enclosure. He’s sound now – you can’t assess him on that run.”
Azzie continued: “People don’t understand what this horse went through to win the Triple Crown. We endured 63 days of hell. He broke a hoof to pieces before the SA Classic and we received threats the day before he won that race that he ‘wouldn’t make it to the SA Derby’.
“So we had to tighten up security in the stables. We’ve got cameras in all my barns, but Abashiri has one in his stable, which means I can check on him around the clock if necessary. Between the SA Classic and SA Derby he had two dedicated security guards at all times.”
Abashiri is the country’s top-rated four-year-old and many racing fans, including Azzie, are disappointed he did not receive a “Champion” award at the Equus Awards ceremony. He was given a “Special Award” for which Azzie is supremely grateful, but the two accolades most expected him to win went the way of Marinaresco (Champion Three-Year-Old Colt-Gelding) and Enaad (Champion Stayer).
“It’s not sour grapes,” he insists. “But I do believe he deserved more than a special mention having won five of his eight starts – two Grade 1s, a Grade 2 and a Listed race. Either the handicappers have got it wrong, rating him seven points better than Marinaresco and 18 points better than Enaad, or the panel got it wrong!
“I understand Marinaresco beat Abashiri in the July, but the panel did not use the same criterion when comparing Smart Call to Legal Eagle for Horse Of The Year – she beat him squarely and fairly in The Met.”
Azzie also has high hopes for a few other horses in his care.
Aussie Austin, only pipped by Riverine in his debut before a decisive win next time out, and Querari Falcon are two youngsters he is pinning his hopes on, and he is hoping two Argentinian three-year-olds, due to arrive in about two months’ time, will give him even more fire-power. Deputy Jud, he says, “is sound now and will bounce back”, while Greek Legend “will pick up a feature win sometime”.
Another he tentatively believes could make his mark is Roquebrune, who won well first time out but then injured himself. He is taking it slowly, having had only two runs since.
“He threw his groom off in work one morning and galloped full-speed down a chute before trying to jump a fence. He chipped a huge piece of bone off a patella and had to have a big operation,” said Azzie. “If that hadn’t happened, he would probably be the best sprinter in the country at the moment. Now I’m not sure he’ll get there.”