Durban’s Champions Season moves to Clairwood racetrack in the KwaZulu-Natal capital on Saturday where three Group races feature on the ten race card. The meeting is the last chance of Vodacom Durban July hopefuls to make the final field and a number of horses just outside the top twenty are entered.
First up is the R200 000, Group 3 Cup Trial (1800m), where the top weights in the field are the Brett Crawford trained Polar Bound (60kg) and English Garden(59.5kg) from the Mike Bass stable. Cape trainers have dominated the Champions Season so far and Saturday appears to be no different.
Polar Bound won the Group 2 Peninsula Handicap at Kenilworth back in January, but disappointed in his last start at Greyville, where he finished 10th in the Group 2 Bettingworld 1900 behind Beach Beauty.
In position 13 on the log, Polar Bound is currently assured of a place in the final Vodacom Durban July field, but another disappointing run could see him slip out of the top twenty, and out of contention.
Donovan Dillon riding English Garden during trackwork at Clairwood, picture Liesl King
English Garden has only had one start in the Champions Season, winning a Progress Plate over 1800m on May 11th, and against several Vodacom Durban July runners convincingly. This is likely to be his final Vodacom Durban July preparation and the Camden Park gelding jumps from barrier three under Bernard Fayd’Herbe.
Astro News in position 21 and Gold Onyx(NZ) in position 24 are the two runners trying to gain a start in the final field.
Gold Onyx was unlucky not to get a run last year and trainer Sean Tarry will be hoping his star colt does enough to earn a starting spot this year.
The recently gelded Silver Flyer, from the Mike De Kock yard, is the current favourite in Saturday’s ante poste betting at 7/2, with English Garden at 9/2. Silver Flyer won the Group 2 Dingaans over 1600m in November and finished third in the Group 1 SA Classic over 1800m in March, with both races at Turffontein, before losing his way.
Currently in position 14, De Kock will be hoping that the gelding operation has helped to focus Silver Flyer, and he will be expecting a solid run in order to cement his position in the final field.
Surprisingly the R700 000, Group 1 Rising Sun Gold Challenge (1600m) has only attracted a field of six runners. This may be due to the presence of star miler Variety Club from the Cape Town yard of Joey Ramsden.
The colt has only once been beaten over this distance, when he finished second behind Gimmethegreenlight (AUS) in the Group 1 WFA Cape L’Ormarins Queens Plate over 1600m.
With a record five Group victories, including beating current Vodacom Durban July favourite Jackson in the Group 2 KRA Guineas over 1600m at Greyville in May, it is unlikely that Variety Club will finish anywhere except in the number one box.
Other runners include top Vodacom Durban July entrants Tales of Bravery, currently in position three on the log,and Pierre Jourdan in position four.
Tales Of Bravery at his Clairwood stable, picture Liesl King
Castlethorpe(AUS), who ran in the 2011 Vodacom Durban July and is currently in position 22, will have to put in a solid performance against Variety Club if he is to start in the race again this year. The gelding has been racing over the sprint distances of late and it is unsure whether he will indeed start in the Vodacom Durban July.
The final Group race of the day is the R200 000, Group 2 Tibouchina Stakes (1450m). With a star-studded field that includes Welwitschia(GB), Princess Victoria, Trinity House and Frequent Flyer, it promises to be the race of the day.
Welwitschia, the current favourite, from the De Kock yard, won the Group 2 Camellia Stakes over 1160m by 3.25L, before going down to star mare Ebony Flyer by a length in the Group 1 WFA SA Fillies Sprint over 1200m at Scottsville on May 26th.
She is unlikely to have it all her own way though as the Glen Kotzen trained Princess Victoria is out to prove that her disappointing run in the SA Fillies Guineas was just an off-day. It was the first time that the triple Group 1 winner finished unplaced in her career and if back to her best she could certainly give Welwitschia a run for her money.
The Ramsden trained Trinity House has played bridesmaid to Princess Victoria on more than one occasion, and while talented, she is unlikely to reverse that form.
The Group 3 Cup Trial is race five at 1.35pm; with the Group 1 Gold Challenge race seven at 2.50pm and the Group 2 Tibouchina Stakes at 3.25pm. All times South African standard time.