Just nine horses will line up for the R2-million SA Classic at Turffontein on Saturday and quite a few experts will be keeping in mind the racing adage, the smaller the field, the bigger the upset when making their selections.
Assistant trainer Mathew de Kock, in charge of Mike’s powerful string until his dad returns from Dubai, says, “Small fields equal exciting finishes” – and he’s hoping for just that, only in his favour, on Saturday.
Upset results in small fields are often due to a muddling or slow pace, but De Kock jun is taking no chances and has put Alaadel in to set “a true-run, honest pace”.
“That will help my other two horses, Heavenly Blue and Janoobi. In this small field Randall Simons will have more control pace-wise,” he said.
Alaadel should have no problems carrying out his task. He’s certainly fit enough, having raced last weekend at Turffontein in the Derby Trial where he finished fourth behind Pagoda.
Janoobi and Heavenly Blue finished first and third respectively in the Betting World Gauteng Guineas a month ago.
They were separated by Sean Tarry-trained Al Sahem, Betting World’s even-money favourite for the SA Classic. Heavenly Blue is second favourite at 18-10, with Janoobi next on offer at 5-1.
Said De Kock: “Heavenly Blue’s preparation has gone 100% flawlessly. He’s now very close to his best and the 1800m is probably the minimum of his best distance.”
In the Gauteng Guineas Heavenly Blue was returning from a rest following a quick trip to Cape Town in December and De Kock admitted beforehand that he was slightly shy of peak fitness.
Janoobi, he said, “Was at a peak that day and is still doing just as well”.
However, Janoobi would need to learn to settle before he’d put much faith in his chances over further than 1600m. “I’m not saying he won’t stay, I just think Heavenly Blue will be more effective over the 1800m,” he confirmed.
Al Hawraa, Orchid Island and Belle Rose run for the stable in the R1-million Wilgerbosdrift SA Fillies Classic (Grade 1) over 1800m.
Al Hawraa and Orchid Island finished second and third behind Smiling Blue Eyes in the Wilgerbosdrift Gauteng Fillies Guineas with Belle Rose fifth.
“Al Hawraa was a bit in-and-out earlier in her career but she’s doing well now she’s older and stronger. She’s showing us more at home, giving us confidence.
“It’s all positive for her. She’s at a peak and has a good draw. I expect her to be right there at the finish.”
Orchid Island, the 11-2 second favourite behind Smiling Blue Eyes, has enjoyed a smooth preparation and is much fitter than in the Fillies Guineas, but De Kock said she’d have a “hard task from draw No 13. “Don’t get me wrong, she’s classy but it’s hard to give other classy fillies start.”
Belle Rose won the Oaks Trial last weekend, and De Kock said afterwards he would see how she took the race before making a decision on her participation in the SA Fillies Classic. At this point she is a definite runner.
“She’s come out of the race sound and happy and she should have a top-five chance in the SA Fillies Classic,” he said.
The R1-million HF Oppenheimer Horse Chestnut Stakes over 1600m is the third Grade 1 race on the programme and De Kock fields two horses – Fareeq, “who is in there as a pacemaker, to keep them honest”, and Rafeef, a classy individual whose biggest win to date came in the Grade 2 Hawaii Stakes over 1400m this month.
“His preparation has gone very well and I feel he’s made more improvement.
“Of course, it’ll be hard to beat Legal Eagle, but he’ll give it his best,” said De Kock.
Of his other runners at the meeting, he said: “I’ve got a nice card.”
He rates Like A Panther in Race 1 over 1400m, while Alfolk, “should be right there in the Protea Stakes; and good runs are expected of Raasmaal and Ektifaa in the Man O’ War Sprint.