Anton Marcus makes the long trip to the Vaal tomorrow with one mission in mind – making sure that Hawwaam passes his test at the starting stalls.
Mike de Kock’s colt has always had temperament issues, boiling over in the paddock before the SA Derby and having to be scratched, and famously blowing his chances in the Vodacom Durban July after kicking the back gate and being withdrawn by the course vet.
De Kock said over the weekend that a lot of work has since gone into reschooling the colt and hopefully it will all pay off tomorrow.
Hawwaam contests a Pinnacle Plate over 1200m, a distance well short of his optimum trip, but he has suffered only a single reverse in a career spanning seven starts over distances from 1400m to 2000m.
The colt is a rare talent when his behaviour does not get the better of him and top class horses sprint and stay. Hawwaam should have too much class, even for a smart field of sprinters that are in opposition and the 2-1 offered by Track & Ball in the ante-post market look generous. De Kock, Marcus and a host of supporters will be relieved once the gates open and Hawwaam gets away on terms.
The opposition includes last season’s Gr1 Golden Horseshoe winner Chimichurri Run and should Hawwaam be caught out for what ever reason, Sean Tarry’s colt is there to pick up the pieces. He was on offer at 22-10 in the opening call with bookmakers obviously expecting him to give Hawwaam a race. Chimichurri Run has had the benefit of a pipe-opener, finishing under a length back to Prince Of Kahal in the Jo’burg Spring Challenge, so he will strip race-ready.
Rebel’s Champ (7-2) – is the only other runner in single figures – and Will Pays (12-1) are smart sprinters in their own right, but in spite of his lay-off and the 62kg on his back, Hawwaam should be difficult to beat, given that he does not blow the start.
Tarry gives three of his top runners their first run of the season in the International Jockey’s Challenge 16 November Pinnacle Stakes over 1400m. Celtic Sea, Return Flight and the mare Desert Rhythm are all smart performers but Celtic Sea looks the pick and will start at cramped odds.
She ended last season with wins in the Gr1 SA Fillies Sprint over 1200m and Gr1 Garden Province Stakes over 1600m on Vodacom Durban July day.
Celtic Sea was beaten in her last race of the season but put up what was arguably her best showing. Making nearly all the running in the Gr1 Mercury Sprint, she was only reeled in two jumps from the line by top sprinter Kasimir.
With Lyle Hewitson plying his trade in Hong Kong, Gavin Lerena takes over in the saddle and should get off to a winning start given that she is 5-10 in the market.
Hawwaam and Celtic Sea will be anchors in many an exotic bet but if they fluff their lines, pay-outs will escalate accordingly.
The first three legs of the Pick 6 are maiden plates with 20-horse fields, a recipe for a coupe of upsets if ever there was one.
In the opening leg, Akwaan can feature in a weak field. He improved at his second start and the tongue-tie comes off. He is a weak 9-2 favourite and 12-1 shot City Dancer could prove better value. He was much improved second time out and Piere Strydom is riding well for this stable.
Willo’thewisp, Var Aglow and River Jordan are the only three runners quoted in single figures for the fourth and with the balance of the exposed runners showing modest form and a host of first timers, this trio could see you through this leg of the Pick 6.
Our Man From Havana and Banha Bridge, both 33-10, are vying for favouritism in the fifth, and look the pick. A threat could be Arnica Montana (12-1). He has turned into something of a bookies favourite and faded out when tried over further last run. The blinkers go on and he may be worth another chance although he cannot be relied upon.
The sixth sees a small field line up over 2400m in what could be a tricky affair. Laconia has had plenty of chances but does stay the trip – finishing second three times – and is seldom far off them. She will never get a better chance although she shares favouritism with Miss Cap Mala, both 15-10.
Ring Of Fire (14-10) is at short odds to round off the meeting but it doesn’t look quite that straight forward. Silver Master, Scoop and Topmast and all upset.
By Andrew Harrison