Horses | Horse News
The 50-year-old master jockey served up five winners on a 10-race card at Greyville racecourse on Monday, boosting his barely credible rate of wins-to-rides to 27% in the current season.
On this red-letter day, surprise results were a distinct possibility, with the form of horses expected to be unreliable after their “holiday”. With so much uncertainty in the air, the man referred to as simply “Anton” seemed unlikely to be able to pick many “right ones” – as he’s often been able to do in recent years.
Plus, champion jockey-elect Warren Kennedy was in town vying for the choice mounts – along with a clutch of other top riders. But Marcus simply doubled down on his usual two to three victories a meeting and grabbed a handful to show everyone who’s boss.
In his very first ride, in Race 2 on a nag called Hopskipandjump, the Marcus power and persuasive skills were back on show. The three-year-old filly made a pig’s ear of the start and ended up scrambling to stay in touch with the pace. But she had Top Gun in the cockpit; afterburners were lit, and she whooshed by to grab the honours.
Afterwards, a breathless Marcus quipped that it wasn’t horses who were a tad unfit, but riders. He wasn’t puffed for long, delivering a masterclass to colleagues through the rest of the day.
Everything was squeaky clean when South African horse racing resumed after lockdown under sunny blue skies in Durban.
Racing can be a rather dirty game (in more ways than one), with mud, dung, blood, guts, spit and polish aplenty. But with on-track attendance severely restricted, those chosen few at Greyville did everything by the book: temperature scanning, social distancing, mask-wearing; the whole rigmarole.
Stable staff worked harder than usual with minimal groom assistance allowed, while whispering huddles in the parade ring gave way to trainers trying to keep instructions to riders as sotto voce as possible from three metres away.
Cheerful TV presenter Warren Lenferna, sounding like Darth Vader behind his plastic shield, assured us we’d trade the unfamiliar and disruptive for live action any day.
The first race, a modest Maiden Plate, went to 28-1 outsider Tromso from the Johan Janse van Vuuren stable, with apprentice jockey Thabiso Gumede making his 4kg claim pay in a tight finish.
It was a moment to cherish for racing fans long-starved of local fare.
It was similar feeling in England as racing in the home of the game also restarted after weeks of enforced inaction. The first winner there – and the answer to a new pub quiz question – was Zodiakos, a seven-year-old gelding.
Sadly, there was no blaze of glory a la Marcus at Newcastle racecourse, but instead a moment of tragedy as a horse called December Second stumbled and fell on the Poly surface and had to be euthanised.
The South African spotlight moves north to the Vaal on Tuesday and Thursday, with Cape Town’s Kenilworth getting its new dawn on Wednesday and Port Elizabeth’s Fairview on Friday.
All this a prelude to big guns being rolled out at Turffontein in Joburg on Saturday 6 June. Three Graded contests top the bill of fare: The HF Oppenheimer Horse Chestnut Stakes, the SA Derby and the SA Oaks. Many important feature races – postponed from traditional earlier dates – follow thick and fast in the following weeks.
A first foundation trench was started in downtown Durban this week – ahead of the massive rebuilding task needed to keep racing alive in the country.
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