Apart from Port Elizabeth supremo Alan Greeff nobody has trained more winners this season than Brett Crawford’s 66 and his 20.2% strike rate is the best in South Africa. He is good at the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate meeting too and last year he won a third of the 18 races.
Classic winner Front And Centre is favourite to give Crawford his third success in the Cartier Paddock Stakes and the Philippi trainer reasons: “She has done very well, has had a great preparation for this race, looks outstanding and I think she is the horse to beat. We supplemented Water Spirit because we would like a true-run race.”
It’s five years since Futura presaged his Met win by taking the Queen’s Plate and Crawford expects a better run from Undercover Agent than his 25-1 price would suggest. “I am not going to say he can win because it’s a helluva race, probably one of the better Queen’s Plates we have seen in a long time, but he will be competitive. I don’t think you can read a lot into his WSB Green Point run. He was badly interfered with – he got banged into the fence twice – and yet he still managed to run on into fifth. He is a far better horse than that, his work is really good and a mile is where his best form lies.”
Crawford is also expecting a bold showing from 6-1 joint second favourite Charles in the Glorious Goodwood Peninsula Handicap. “Unfortunately he had a setback [a nasal discharge] that prevented him running in the Premiers but he has come through it well and his handicap mark is in his favour. He is going to do well over 1 800m and I think we can expect a very competitive run.
“Dynasty’s Blossom [ex Joey Ramsden] has only been with me for a short time so I don’t know much about her but she has shown her ability to stay well.”
Gimme One Night aims to repeat last year’s success in the Heineken Chairman’s Cup and give his stable its third consecutive success in the 2 500m race. Apparently his chance is better than the current 7-1 might suggest: “It was a really muddling pace in the WSB Summer Stayers last time and he ended up leading which is not what he likes. They then sprinted past him but he ran on to only just get beaten into third. He is in great form and he will run a very good race.”
When Adam Marcus started training nearly eight years ago many of his small string were owned, or part-owned, by his father Basil who, incidentally, rode the first of his three Queen’s Plate winners 43 years ago. Today Marcus jnr numbers some of the biggest owners in the land among his select team and he joins Mike de Kock and Justin Snaith as the only trainers with more than one runner in Saturday’s highlight.
Vardy is the main contender and, despite his Green Point win, very much the dark horse of the race. “Going into the Green Point I was of the opinion that Vardy had a lot of improvement still to come because he had had a long lay-off, an operation and only one gallop. He has come on from that win and, while we are coming up against horses that are also improving, he is a good place and I couldn’t be happier with him.”
And how difficult is it going to be for Vardy, or any of the other Cape Town horses for that matter, to beat Uncle Anton’s mount Hawwaam?
“He is a short-priced favourite and I think that is a fair assessment because he looks to be special. He had plenty in hand when he won the Premier but it will be interesting to see how he does against the likes of Do It Again and Rainbow Bridge because he hasn’t come up against horses of that level before – and with Vardy we will certainly try to give him a run.”
Marcus, renowned for the thought he gives each horse, has decided to try different tactics with second string Twist Of Fate. “I am learning a lot about him and I now don’t think he is a horse that needs to be bounced out. Maybe he could get away with really grinding through to the line, and showing a lot of heart, when he was a three-year-old but I don’t think he is going to get away with that against horses of this quality. He is doing well and you know what? At his best he is not far behind the best so we are really hopeful.”
By Michael Clower