The Sporting Post’s two main articles on superstar Ryan Moore replacing former South African champion Gavin Lerena on last year’s winner Rainbow Bridge in Saturday’s Sun Met attracted a staggering 85 comments.
They were split almost 50:50 between those condemning the decision (“A bad move, a low blow for Gavin”) and those applauding it with remarks like “Good on you Eric, best jockey in the world riding the most consistent Grade 1 horse in the race – what a combo.”
The man at the centre of it all, having already said that he took what he admits was a difficult decision in the best interests of the horse and its owner, is now concentrating on the international implications.
“How good is it for South African racing that we can attract a jockey of Ryan’s calibre?” is the first question Sands poses, and the second is almost a natural progression. “Assuming they sort out the protocols as planned, we could have Aidan O’Brien deciding he wants to send horses here for the Met in two or three years’ time – and who is he going to turn to tell him what a great place this is?”
But back to the horse. Sands is not happy about what happened down at the start – and after it – in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate. “The long delay was a killer for both Rainbow Bridge and his half-brother Hawwaam. They were next to each other in the early part of the race and between them they pulled each other’s guts out.
“All credit to my horse, though – he stayed on into third and his number is in the frame. I’m not complaining but I thought he had an unnecessarily hard run. Also, had he been ridden differently, I think he would have been a lot closer in both the Queen’s Plate and the Green Point previously.”
There is only a three week gap between the Queen’s Plate and the Met. Is that enough to recover from the first of them and be freshened up for the second one? “For my horse, yes,” answers the trainer. “I prefer four weeks between races but the Met is there and we’ve got to take it as it comes.”
Re-runs of last year’s race show Rainbow Bridge putting in his best work when he was well into the final furlong. Despite having finished third in the Queen’s Plate, he gave every indication of relishing the extra distance. “Correct, that’s the way he runs and this is much more his trip,” says Sands for whom victory would make him the first trainer to win the race in successive years since Mike Bass won four in a row a decade ago.
By Michael Clower