For the racing purist the game is all about excellence. While it is great to back a winner one does appreciate a quality performance and we saw an abundance of those on Guineas Day at Turffontein on Saturday.
There was great excitement on course when 11-2 shot Janoobi held on to beat 28-10 favourite Al Sahem by a head to give trainer Mike de Kock his 3,000th win as a trainer but what can be better than watching two of the best jockeys in the world – Piere Strydom and Anthony Delpech – fighting out a finish over the final 200m that came right down to the final stride.
It was a brilliant performance and on this occasion it fittingly went to Strydom on Janoobi – the only man to have ridden more than 5,000 winners delivering a record milestone to the first man in South Africa to train 3,000 winners.
However, that could all change in a month’s time when they line up again for the Grade 1 SA Classic over 1800m. “My horse was still so dumb,” said Delpech of Sean Tarry-trained Al Sahem. Third place went to another De Kock runner, Heavenly Blue, and how different it could have turned out if jockey Callan Murray had been able to find a gap on the outside fence. Once he saw daylight the Australian-bred son of Snitzel flew up to grab third, beaten just 1.50 lengths.
“When they go over 1800m next time he can never lose,” said Murray as he came to weigh in.
Mathew de Kock had said Janoobi was the right horse of their two but Strydom, who had ridden him three times previously, was concerned about his tendency to pull, his size and the fact he hadn’t performed on a wet track. “He was like a different horse,” said Strydom. “He has grown and he settled really well.
“And the jockeys have been telling me the whole week they can’t believe how well this horse is working. And I thought, ‘oh well I have ridden him and I know the horse’. But when I cantered down, it’s like the horse has grown and he is a more relaxed horse than ever.
“Maybe that’s why he could get away with it today. He went to the front but he was relaxed in front, where normally he wants to tear away. He had to do that otherwise we would have got beat. There was only a head in it at the finish.”
De Kock said after this victory he will probably give Janoobi a shot at the SA Classic along with Heavenly Blue. “We have to do that after this run. On breeding he should stay.”
The R500,000 Wilgerbosdrift Gauteng Fillies Guineas (Grade 2) was won by Smiling Blue Eyes and the ride by Raymond Danielson aboard the daughter of Dynasty was equally impressive, but for different reasons. She had the form to win but could not have been worse drawn at No 16 of the 16 runners which is why she was easy to back at 22-1. “There’s nothing I could do about the draw, I just had to ride her the best I could under the circumstances,” he said.
Danielson had no option but to race wide and placed her as well as he could in the middle of the pack. The added advantage was that the field was coming over to the outside fence once in the straight and that, to an extent, nullified the wide draw. “When we came for home she was still idling along but when I asked her she responded immediately,” said the jockey.
Space was tight on the outside so when he made his move Danielson had to squeeze the grey filly though a tight gap and could have made contact with Santiburi. But once in the clear she literally burst away from the field to beat Al Hawraa easing up by 2.60 lengths. Third place went to 18-10 favourite Orchid Island with Babbling Brooke in fourth.
De Kock won three of the five features on the day with Rafeef (7-2) (Murray) getting the better of TAB favourite New Predator in the Grade 2 Hawaii Stakes over 1400m and Nother Russia (7-1) flying from stone last to beat Bella Sonata by a head.
Craig Zackey rode Nother Russia and if anybody remembered his words in one of his columns when he spoke about his two favourite fillies – Nother Russia and Smiling Blue Eyes – could have made oodles of money.