Horses | Horse News
Princess Calla finished third behind Queen Supreme in the Grade 1 Paddock Stakes, a weight-for-age contest for fillies and mares on this past Saturday’s L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate card – with the daughter of Flower Alley finishing strongly over the 1800m and looking sure to go the 200m extra of the Met.
But the Met has traditionally been a spooky place for trainers with three year olds – even male three year olds. The prevailing wisdom is that January is a little too early in the season for the youngsters; they are still maturing and not quite ready to take on older horses at the top level.
Of course, some intrepid trainers have shown that, with the right horse, this Met convention can be shattered, notably Mike de Kock and Justin Snaith. Indeed, the latter has even won the met with a three-year-old filly, Oh Susannah.
Some racing fans were expecting Snaith to supplement three-year-old colt Jet Dark, shock winner of the Queen’s Plate, into the Met. Instead, it was young Marcus whose hand went up.
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The Milnerton conditioner – son of legendary rider Basil and nephew of equally famous Anton – is quick to point to the Oh Susannah example when asked about his decision to go boldly for the big one.
He has further, persuasive, arguments.
“Initially we aimed to run in the Grade 1 Majorca Stakes on Met day, but then we drew 20 out of 22,” he says.
“I analysed the Majorca field and saw it was an exceptionally strong line-up of fillies and mares. It would be very difficult to overcome such a wide draw at Kenilworth against that quality of opposition.
“Also, Princess Calla is crying out for more ground, so the 2000m of the Met is more suitable than the Majorca 1600m.”
Along with other knowledgeable pundits, Marcus rates the current three-year-old crop of thoroughbred as exceptional, further backing his decision.
The filly’s superb showing in the Paddock saw her merit rating shoot up to 116 – guaranteeing her a place in Cape Town’s most famous race.
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What’s more, under the Met’s weight-for-age conditions, she has a weight allocation of 51.5kg, against the 60kg that Rainbow Bridge, Belgarion, Do It Again and Cirillo – second, third, fourth and fifth behind Jet Dark in the Queen’s Plate.
“I spoke to the owner [Mario Ferreira] and we agreed that the 51.5kg gives us a fighting chance,” continues Marcus. “She is a very strong filly physically for her age, very fit right now and in a good place mentally. It was an unbelievably good run in the Paddock.”
If any more was needed to convince the connections, booking Grant van Niekerk for the ride was it. The jockey’s confident, marvellously judged victory on Jet Dark in the Queen’s Plate confirmed him at the top of the form charts and there are few other lightweight riders one would rather have on a big-race runner right now.
Marcus is aware that all this theory could come to naught in the boiling pot of the Met itself.
For one thing, Princess Calla is lightly raced and is “still rather green”. For another, there’s the fateful barrier draw to be made on 20 January – the deadline for final declarations. And don’t forget: the quality of the 2021 Met field is truly exceptional. Apart from the Fearsome Foursome mentioned above, there is the presence of none other than De Kock’s Queen Supreme, who, truth be told, walloped her opposition at the weekend.
Downfield in that race was hitherto unbeaten filly and Equus Horse of the Year Summer Pudding. Paul Peter’s supremo was making her first appearance in Cape Town after a lengthy road journey. After the race, a scope revealed mucous on the lungs. She’ll be back; bet on it.
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Then there’s the amazing Golden Ducat, who “came back from the dead” to win the Grade 2 Premier Trophy on Saturday and burnish an already shiny reputation. Other Met candidates who did little harm to their reputations in defeat in that event were African Night Sky, Sachdev and Nexus.
Also lurking among the Met entries – and on a light weight as a three year old – is De Kock’s colt Malmoos, the archetypal dark horse and reputed to be smarter that shown thus far.
Against such an array of talent, Adam Marcus is deserving of praise and admiration for showing initiative and confidence with his precocious filly Princess Calla.
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