Sean Tarry and Chris van Niekerk are not the only people who will be hoping Trip To Heaven can finally crack a Grade 1 victory in tomorrow’s Mercury Sprint over 1200m at Greyville.
With a merit rating of 120, this son of Trippi is the highest rated sprinter in the country but has failed to win any of the Grade 1 sprint races.
But, as Tarry pointed out, “the weights are never his problem, just the gates”. Therein lies his problem. Trip To Heaven always concedes ground as the gates open and that has proved costly. It is tough to give start over a sprint distance and make up the ground when all the horses are running flat out.
But this year’s golf circuit proved there is always light on the horizon. When Sergio Garcia was just 18-years-old golfing pundits were predicting how many Majors he would win. At the age of 37, just when everybody felt it would not ever happen, Garcia struck in the Masters at Augusta.
So the Mercury Sprint could well be Trip To Heaven’s “Garcia moment”. He is well handicapped, well drawn (although if you lose ground at the start the draw is not always that important) and has regular jockey S’manga Khumalo in the irons.
Trip To Heaven has run four times at Greyville, twice over 1600m in the Grade 1 Rising Sun Gold Challenge, and twice in this race. He was first past the post in the 2016 Gold Challenge but was demoted for causing interference to Mac De Lago. This year he ran on well to finish a 1.50-length second behind Captain America.
The two 1200m races have resulted in him finishing unplaced but Tarry explained he was poorly ridden on the first occasion while last year this was his first run after being gelded and he probably needed the run. But since having been gelded Trip To Heaven has done little wrong.
Tarry also saddles Bull Valley, winner of the Grade 1 Tsogo Sun Sprint over 1200m at Scottsville. He was primed for that race but could find it tougher on this occasion as this is a weight-for age event whereas the Scottsville race was a handicap.
He is the next best handicapped runner and is just 2.5kg out with Trip To Heaven so on paper the son of Toreador is the obvious danger. Bull Valley is unbeaten in two runs over 1200m but this is his first run at Greyville.
Although quoted at 16-1, trainer Mike Azzie is expecting a decent run from Rivarine. “He is very well and he’s won over the course and distance. I know he is not well handicapped but he should be competitive.”