J&B MET (Grade 1)
Kenilworth, Turf, 2000m
2 February 2013
While most scribes have been concentrating on matters of horses and fashion in their coverage of Saturday’s J&B Met, we’re going to talk a little bit about history. The sponsors founder, Giacomo Justerini arrived in London from Bologna in 1749 in pursuit, not of his fortune, but of a beautiful opera singer, Margherita Bellino, with whom he had fallen in love.
Though his pursuit of love was unrequited, he must have been comforted by his fortunes which prospered greatly; so that by 1760 he was able to sell the firm to George Johnson and retire to Italy. Throughout the difficult days of the London riots of 1780 and the Napoleonic Wars, George Johnson and later his son and grandson managed the firm with considerable skill, until in 1830 it was sold to Alfred Brooks, a young man doubly blessed by wealth and good connections. He added his name to that of Justerini and built up a discerning and knowledgeable clientele, amongst them Charles Dickens whose bills, still in their possession today, reflect his growing success as an author and his increasing enthusiasm for their products.
As for the Met itself, it’s come a long way since it was inaugurated in 1883 as the Metropolitan Mile, and its association with J&B dates to 1978, entitling it to lay claim to the oldest sponsorship of a current horse race in South Africa. Since then, it’s been graced by some of the greatest names in South Africa’s racing folklore. Politician, Foveros, Wolf Power, Model Man, London News, Horse Chestnut, Yard Arm, Pocket Power, Igugu. 4:30 pm Saturday is the next chance for someone to make new history.
While on the subject of history, in the modern era, no farm can match Summerhill’s three Met winners, La Fabulous (1996), Angus (2003) and Igugu (2012), while we came oh-so-close in 1995 when Imperial Dispatch and Rusty Pelican charged up the outer rail and to all normal beholders, crossed the line ahead of the rest. Champion Three-Year-Old Filly Icy Air was another denied the victory laurels when Alastor “half-lengthed” her in 2005. The weights for the J&B Met are framed to provide the best horses with the best chances, and in that respect, it’s unique among the big three of South African racing. There is only a 2kg penalty separating Group One winners from the rest of the candidates, though in merit rating terms, they might be as much as a stone apart. In effect that means that the Group One winners generally comprise the highest rated horses in the field, and are where the winner is most likely to spring from; on the basis, of this year’s entries, Jackson and Pomodoro are the penalty kicks. Yet racing is a funny old game, and none of us know what the horses themselves are feeling like on race day.
Last year, there were all sorts of misgivings about the welfare of Igugu, and the naysayers just couldn’t have hers among the numbers in the frame. They obviously didn’t know Igugu and had forgotten where she came from. She laid her adversities aside, soaring through in the dying strides, to nail Bravura and the young upstart, Gimmethegreenlight, in the shadow of the post.
The crowd gave Igugu a standing ovation as she passed the post, with the yellow lights of the infield timing board showing she’d equalled the long-standing record, which meant Bravura must’ve come close too. But it was Igugu’s day, she owned Kenilworth as no filly had since Empress Club. Briefly, the sport had returned to its most glorious days. For a moment, the punt doesn’t matter. For a moment, a horse is queen. Legless, but standing. Wave after wave of cheering rushed over sunny Kenilworth, the horses and jockeys were exhausted. It had all been too much.
Just this past week, we dug up a photograph of the “miracle” filly as a foal. Those that know foals can see the makings of a champion in these images.
Gavin Van Zyl is not the only man bandying about the name of his charge, “Slumdog”, as there is more than one racing journo who shares his optimism. Let’s not forget too, that the enigmatic Bravura comes well at this time of the year, having won the Investec Cape Derby over the same course and distance on the same day two years ago, and then as we’ve said, pressing Igugu all the way in last year’s event. We guess though, that it depends on which “Bravura” turns up on the day. Don’t write off Beach Beauty either; she’s at the top of her game, and in Dennis Drier, she couldn’t be in more capable hands.
Greg Ennion is high on the hopes of Master Plan, who earned his Group One brackets in a nail-biting finale at Greyville on the closing day of the season in the Champions Cup, while Vaughan Marshall is known to rate the vastly improved Hill Fifty Four, a Group winner in both of his most recent starts.
We don’t want to appear parochial about this, but hope springs eternal in this game, and while his price of 75-1 suggests he is a forlorn prospect in this field, if Master Plan or Hill Fifty Four are in with any kind of a chance, then a fully fit Black Wing must enter the equation, if only for place money. Master Plan is 2kgs worse off for a short head beating of Black Wing in that Group One at Greyville, while there is a 3kg turnabout in the weights against Hill Fifty Four for a three length win in the Penisula Handicap (Gr.2) a few weeks back. That run suggests that there is nothing in it between Black Wing and Hill Fifty Four, while the turnaround with Master Plan, in theory at least, tells us that Black Wing has his beating.
This looks like a high class renewal, and most times in these circumstances, class prevails. What focuses the mind here is the fact that the highest rated entries are also in the best of form right now, and so it looks like a match between three, Jackson, Pomodoro and Slumdogmillionaire. Beach Beauty could be the “party pooper”.
Editor’s Note: Black Wing was a R50,000 purchase by Paul Gadsby off the farm. That was before we introduced the Emperors Palace Summer Ready To Run Sale. Who knows, it gave us Imbongi, Bold Ellinore and Emperor Napoleon. So there’s no reason it can’t produce another of their ilk. (Wednesday 20th February at the farm).