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By Mike Moon

Horse racing correspondent

Tony Peter four-timer in tumultuous times

Handicappers hike Main Defender to a lofty 131 MR.

It seems there’s never a dull moment in the Turffontein training yard of Tony Peter.

The young conditioner started out in a fairly low-key way, with a few horses, 14 months ago – a few months after his father and former champion trainer Paul suddenly quit the game.

Things didn’t stay quiet for long; winners started rolling in, and Peter junior finished the 22/23 season in 20th place on the trainers’ log with 46 wins and an unmatched winning strike rate of 26%.

Monied owners notice such things and some of them have come on board and helped him build a string of exceptional young horses in rapid order.

Of course, much has been said about Peter’s altercations with officialdom but, much to his credit in what must be nerve-racking times, he has stuck to his knitting – training horses and winning races.

Four winners on one day

The stable’s soaring fortunes were nowhere more evident than at Classic Day Turffontein on Saturday, when Peter saddled four winners on the 10-race programme – all of them ridden by family friend Calvin Habib.

The headline event, the Grade 1 HF Oppenheimer Horse Chestnut Stakes went the way of Peter’s three-year-old star Main Defender, who wiped the floor with a high-quality lineup that included Equus Horse of the Year Princess Calla.

This came just a fortnight after Main Defender stumbled and almost fell in a warm-up race at Turffontein, after veering across the course and colliding with another horse. The gelding emerged unscathed, but punters were initially sceptical about his stamina credentials for a mile against older horses – not to mention his tendency to hang alarmingly – and he opened at 10-1 for the 1600m Horse Chestnut.

That price didn’t last long, and it quickly became clear the stable was super-confident, with Main Defender starting as a 28-10 second favourite.

The Peter conveyor belt of talent was shown by the facile victories on the same day of two juveniles – colt Pistol Pete (1-4) and Almond Sea (1-5) – both of whom registered their third wins in as many starts and look headed for big things.

Peter then had to endure a completely false social media rumour that Almond Sea had taken ill and possibly died. You have to feel for the guy.

Merit rating

Main Defender’s impressive performance caught the eye of the official handicappers, who hiked up his merit rating from 121 to 131 – placing him squarely among a handful of elite racehorses in the country.

Much was once made of the rivalry between Main Defender and Sandringham Summit after the two youngsters traded places in a couple of races.

The latter appeared more suited to middle distances and was expensively syndicated for stud. His new owners must have been disappointed when Sandringham Summit failed to justify 6-10 favouritism in Saturday’s Grade 1 1800m SA Classic.

The colt failed to overcome a widish draw, travelled uncovered, lacked the requisite finishing speed and went down to 10-1 shot Purple Pitcher, trained by Robyn Klaasen.

Purple Pitcher has been elevated six points to 120 for his effort, while Sandringham Summit remains on 123. The handicappers said their calculations revealed that David Nieuwenhuizen’s charge “underperformed in this race”.

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