L’ORMARINS QUEEN’S PLATE (Grade 1)
Kenilworth, Turf, 1600m
12 January 2013
Kenilworth plays host to South Africa’s premier mile contest on Saturday. The 152nd renewal of the R1 Million L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate (Grade 1) has attracted a fabulous field of fourteen and despite a wide draw, champion Variety Club remains the horse to beat.
The tradition drenched L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate is by far and away the most prestigious weight-for-age mile contest in South Africa, and the credentials of this year’s class are impeccable. The current South African Horse Of The Year, our current SA Champion sprinter and the Vodacom Durban July title holder are just three top racehorses amongst a group of fifteen of our best milers. And the strategists behind the equine excellence make for impressive reading too.
Trainer of the current favourite, Variety Club and Bravura, Joey Ramsden achieved a double in 2005/6 with the brilliant Winter Solstice.
Dean Kannemeyer who sends out Depardieu for Bernard Kantor and Markus Jooste, also knows what is required. He trained Free My Heart to two Queen’s Plate wins in the brown and white silks of the late Graham Beck.
Then Justin Snaith is the man in possession after Gimmethegreenlight got up in a sensation finish to win the race last year. He sends out Run For It and would just love to have the double engraved on the sought after plate.
It is a top-class field, and Variety Club is no racing certainty.
But he is brilliant and Anton Marcus knows him well. And his statistics are already well documented.
Joey Ramsden’s Var chestnut has drawn 15, but has the gate speed to overcome that disability. A winner of 11 of his 16 starts, he goes for his sixth victory on the trot here and is in the form of his life. He won the Green Point Stakes in emphatic style at his last start, and looks close to faultless again.
That said the wide draw cannot be ignored and we should note that his ego was damaged by a superior Piere Strydom ride last year on Gimmethegreenlight, who got his measure by under a half length.
There are a quartet of challengers that could lower Variety Club’s colours, if he takes his eye off the silver plate for just a moment.
Could Strydom prove Variety Club’s nemesis again?
Heading this challenge is the 2012 Vodacom Durban July winner Pomodoro, who flies in on the Tarry ticket.
The son of Jet Master had observers gaping when returning to action in a pipe opener 1160m race four months after the July. He flashed up there from a hopeless position to catch and beat the speedy Legal Action. Pomodoro then came out a month later, and showed his versatility to go from end to end in a Pinnacle Stakes over a mile.
He makes his Cape debut having run twice previously at another left-handed track in Clairwood, and could be something of a dark horse with Piere Strydom in the saddle again and with the very fair run for home of the Kenilworth Summer course.
What A Winter
Champion sprinter What A Winter comes off a Diadem win and tries his luck again over more ground.
The winner of the 2010 Gr2 Selangor Cup run over the course and distance, is fit and in the form of his life at the moment and his astute and vastly experienced trainer would not be subjecting him to the test, if he thought he could not pass it.
The manner of What A Winter’s facilie Diadem win, where he settled and then turned on the jets in the final 300m would indicate that he should be amongst the gunfire when the fight is on. Lest we forget that, on paper, What A Winter is handicapped to win this race.
Run For It
Dynasty’s son Run For It must rank as the singularly most frustratingly talented performer in South Africa.
The 5-year-old entire has run seven Group race places in a career that reflects just three victories, the peak of which was a Listed event in the Eastern Cape.
That is hardly recommendation for us getting excited and suggesting that punters go out and bond their homes to take a bit of the value available, but he is a talented horse who just needs a change of fortune.
Run For It jumps from a good draw, and top jockey Sean Cormack rides him for the first time. We are not privy to the jockey arrangements that saw Bernard Fayd’herbe side with What A Winter, but Cormack may well be the breath of fresh air required to convert the tries into serious goals.
The Daily News winner Jackson has drawn 13, but his racing style of relax-and-dash makes that a less onerous obstacle than would ordinarily be the case.
Jackson has run two good races since returning from a break following his poor Durban July effort. In both starts he powered on late, and in the Green Point Stakes he got to within 2,50 lengths of Variety Club. The Ramsden champion will no doubt still have Jackson’s measure over a mile, and Jackson has his eye on the Met prize as his major target. That is not to say that his connections would not welcome a beautiful silver plate for the mantelpiece.
The KwaZulu-Natal flag will be carried by SA Classic winner Slumdogmillionaire and his in-and-out stablemate Bulsara, who start under the Team G banner of top trainer, Gavin Van Zyl.
Slumdogmillionaire returned after a nine month break following his big career win, when contesting the Gr3 Christmas Handicap two weeks ago. Obviously some way off his peak, he showed some good pace before being run out of it into fourth. He finished 0,65 lengths behind the winner Silver Age giving him 10kgs, and while the J&B Met is his major goal, with the mile here being on the short side, he could be running on strongly for place money.
Slumdogmillionaire has drawn 1, and will be ridden by the underrated Brandon Lerena.
The second string to the Van Zyl bow is the 6-year-old Bulsara, who has not won a race since lifting the Gr3 London News Stakes almost two years ago to the day.
The Van Zyls have grabbed the top two draws, and Bulsara will jump right next door his stablemate, whom he beat in the recent Christmas Handicap. That is largely academic observation one suspects as Bulsara has lost his 3,5 kg weight pull which gave him a marginal advantage, and he remains a longshot.
As a combination of minds and skills, one has to look far to beat trainer Greg Ennion and jockey Robbie Fradd, and they team up again with the Fred Crabbia-owned Master Plan.
The son of Jet Master has edged slowly back to form with three commendable efforts since his post-Champions Season break, and his third cheques in the Green Point Stakes and the Premier Trophy, while not good enough to win this, show his underlying capability.
Master Plan won the 2012 KZN Derby and Champions Cup, and is an interesting inclusion in the mix here in view of his forward racing style. He enjoys running handy, and could add to the heat in a tactical battle for supremacy.
It is a privilege for any owner to have a runner in a race of this standing, but the balance look to have place aspirations at best.
Topping the optimist’s listing is Variety Cub’s stablemate, Bravura.
The son of Silvano has had three runs back since a mid-year break following an unsuccessful Highveld raid. Those efforts produced a second behind Variety Club on his return, a poor run and then a fair running on fourth to Beach Beauty in the Calulo Premier Trophy.
Bravura ran fourth in this race last year behind Gimmethegreenlight, but has not won since the 2011 Green Point Stakes. He wears blinkers again, and has definite place prospects.
The enigmatic Castlethorpe appears is a regular participant in these fearures irrespective of the distance, and is a shadow of his highly vaunted stablemate What A Winter.
Castlethorpe chased What A Winter home when beaten 2,75 lengths in the Diadem and that shows his fitness and wellbeing, if nothing else.
We have to go back seven months to find his last inspiring effort. That was his second in a five horse field behind Variety Club, who was getting 1,5kgs from him in the Gold Challenge over 1600m at Clairwood. That run in isolation gives him a chance, but he would be a shock winner as Variety Club’s shares have soared while Castlethorpe’s have fluctuated.
Fresh off their Gr2 Peninsula Handicap win last Saturday, Vaughan Marshall and jockey MJ Byleveld team up with East Cape Derby winner, Tribal Dance.
The son of Tiger Dance ran Variety Club to a 2,25 length second in the 2012 Winter Guineas and is no slouch over the mile. His better performances are over 400m further though, and his last flat run in the Cape Summer Stayers was hardly the ideal stepping stone into this race.
Glen Kotzen’s Fabiani is a gallant 7-year-old, who is realistically a good few lengths inferior over the mile to the majority of this field. His career peak was probably his 2009 Green Point Stakes win and a great third behind Pocket Power in the 2010 Queen’s Plate. This will be his third bash at winning this race after a 12,85 length finish behind Gimmethegreenlight last year.
Yogas Govender’s Martial Eagle may have raised eyebrows with his inclusion in a mile of this stature, but the son of Silvano showed his well-being with a storming second behind Thunder Dance in the Jet Master Stakes last time.
The Sabine Plattner Racing representative cannot beat Variety Club though on their Green Point Stakes meeting, and may be some folks idea of a quartet kicker at best.
Variety Club is the champion miler and an obvious top choice. He should win this, but that said this will be no walk in the park and human nature induces a search for the likely gamebreaker.
Pomodoro and Run For It strike us as the two most likely to fill this role if Ramsden’s star takes a wrong turn.
Then What A Winter and Jackson are another two candidates for top honours, and the fairly unexposed Gavin Van Zyl visitor Slumdogmillionaire will be lengths better for his last start.
With a good pace likely, an intriguing race is in the offing and the best horse will win it.
We don’t call this the sport of kings for nothing!