Just like this year’s Vodacom Durban July, Saturday’s eLan Gold Cup has attracted a superior line-up of stayers, and fittingly brings down the curtain on this year’s racing season that officially ends on Wednesday, July 31.
The race was recently down-graded from a Grade 1 to a Grade 3, the grading committee taking the view that the quality of recent fields was not up to Grade 1 standard.
The Equus Awards committee have also added a caveat to the staying category saying that if the staying ranks were not up to scratch, the award of the country’s best stayer can be held over.
It shouldn’t be the case this year and Saturday’s winner at Hollywoodbets Greyville will be worthy of an Equus award, no matter who wins.
At first glance the race appears to have thrown up two or three standout runners, but a closer perusal of the form sees every runner in with a decent chance, from top weight Roy Had Enough to bottom weight Onesie.
It is a difficult race that stacks up a field of tough stayers in one of the best renewals of the famous race being run for the 99th year.
Justin Snaith, still basking in the glory of back-to-back Vodacom Durban July wins with Do It Again, saddles three proven stayers and although Do It Again will not emulate Space Walk’s July and Gold Cup double some three decades back, Snaith has other strings to his bow.
Snaith has given Strathdon the somewhat dubious nick-name of ‘Matthew Lips’ after one of the NHA’s senior handicappers, pointing out that Strathdon has not won a race for nearly two years, his last win coming in an eight-horse race off a merit rating of 87. He now has a rating of 101 without having won a race since, a situation that riles Snaith every time the subject is brought up.
Strathdon has paid for his consistency but stable rider Richard Fourie has stuck with the gelding which speaks volumes.
Snaith was fairly bullish of Doublemint’s chances in the VDJ where he was heavily supported in the market, in from 28-1 to start 13-1 on the day. He was only four lengths back to Do It Again and Anton Marcus could change his fortunes.
There is not enough space here to go through the runners but some that have caught the eye are top weight Roy Had Enough and the filly Dynasty’s Blossom.
One of the highlights of the afternoon will be the clash between VDJ runner-up Rainbow Bridge and the progressive Buffalo Bill Cody in the Gr1 Champions Cup.
Rainbow Bridge has done little wrong for Eric Sands except win this winter and rounding off his season with a Gr1 victory would be fitting.
With Hawwaam being scratched at the start of the VDJ, punters were denied the opportunity of seeing possibly the country’s best three-year-old perform against his elders.
Buffalo Bill Cody has only once tasted defeat and cruised to a comfortable victory over the smart Cirilo in his only start this year.
Off the track for close on eight months suggests that he has had problems but Mike de Kock is a master of his trade and the match-up between two top horses is a mouth-watering prospect.
There are three other Gr1 races on the card, The Mercury sprint possibly an Equus Award decider in the sprint category and the two Gr1’s for Juveniles, the Premiers Champion Stakes and the Thekhwini Stakes for fillies are both hotly contested affairs.
A win for recent Gr2 Golden Slipper winner Eden Roc will cement his place at the top of the pile for two-year-old males but the filly’s category is not cut-and-dried with many of the leading candidates having coffin draws next Saturday.
By Andrew Harrison