When they were first introduced many years ago as “grooms plates” most punters stayed away. However, as the programme was formalised and James Maree, one of the best jockeys to come out of South Africa, got more involved, it dawned on punters there was money to be made. Many of these guys are highly talented and the better work riders are highly sought after by trainers.
I know of one trainer who said he would rather go for a coup in race with the right work rider up than in a regular. “These guys listen to you what you tell them and carry out the instructions meticulously,” he said.
Leg I of this season’s Work Riders’ Challenge, supported by all of Phumelela, the Racing Association and the Racing Trust, kicks off at the Vaal today and although the card comprises eight maiden plates, it could provide some hard-knocking non-winners the opportunity to open their accounts.
Penitent Pirate is a perfect example. He has placed six times in 14 starts but despite all of Piere Strydom’s urgings, this Chris Erasmus-trained runner cannot find his way to the winner’s enclosure.
In Race 5 tomorrow over 1000m on the sand, Penitent Pirate comes up against one of the weakest fields he could ever hope to meet. This could be his day and with Charles Ndlovu, a rider who has been up there with the leading riders in the competition, in the irons, this three-year-old son of Mullins Bay must have a massive chance of getting out of the maidens.
There is some mixed form with The Red Tzar, which does give Alec Laird’s charge a chance. Two runs back The Red Tzar ran a 3.50-length third behind Prince Of Orange with Penitent Pirate 11 lengths back in seventh spot.
However, next time out the Erasmus-trained runner finished seven behind Zambezi River with The Red Tzar 31 lengths back. The latter was reported to be striding and making a respiratory noise, something Penitent Pirate does on a regular basis. So, it all could come down to who breathes better on the day.
Sean Tarry has his yard in excellent form right which will no doubt please him as we go into the Highveld Summer Season. Best bet on the card could go to Orchestrated in Race 2, who had an excellent debut run on the sand last time when beaten a head by Ciao-Ciao over 1450m. They go 1600m on this occasion and from No 1 barrier position rider Lyle Hewitson will be perfectly placed to beat his seven rivals.