The Grade 1 weight for age Champions Cup, to be run on eLan Gold Cup day this Saturday, is always an intriguing race as it attracts a top class field but often the fresher horses perform better than those who have taken part in the Vodacom Durban July, which is not only the country’s premier race but also one of the roughest and toughest.
Joint-favourite Buffalo Bill Cody has always been regarded by Mike de Kock as “a little better” than Hawwaam. He has won six out of seven and has won all four of his mile starts with ease. He has never run in a feature before but last time out slammed the Grade 1 HF Oppenheimer Horse Chestnut and Grade 1 Rising Sun Gold Challenge runner up Cirillo by 3,25 lengths and probably needed that run too. De Kock has a fine record with sons of the top shuttle sire Redoute’s Choice and this colt looks capable of becoming another of this stallion’s champions. He will be coming into his own now being an Irish-bred four-year-old who is six months younger than his contemporaries and he should relish the step up to 1800m considering his running style. On pedigree his dam by Sri Pekan was a sprinter, but she produced a horse who came third in a Group 1 over a mile and two furlongs (2000m). Buffalo Bill Cody has a plum draw of three and will be ridden by Gavin Lerena.
His stablemate Soqrat has not raced since finishing fourth in the Gold Challenge, so will be relatively fresh. He is able to relax well in the running and then has a good turn of foot and a sustained finish so he should enjoy this step up in trip. A wide draw was his undoing in the KRA Guineas and he has another wide draw here but over 1800m it should be easier to overcome.
Cirillo had to be dropped out the day he was well beaten by Buffalo Bill Cody but he now has pole position and will be able to take up his favourite front-running role. He will be dangerous although he will likely have to keep up a good momentum as Undercover Agent does not like to hang around.
The other deserved joint-favourite is Rainbow Bridge, who is drawn in pole and will enjoy the 1800m trip. He has settled well in his last few starts and has an electric turn of foot. However, he peaked for the July and that took place only three weeks before this race, so there has not been a lot of time to freshen him up. There is no doubt he will give it his all though as he has proven courage.
Undercover Agent finished second in this race last year and will once again come in fresh having avoided the July after running fifth in the defence of his Gold Challenge crown. He has a middle draw and should be right there, although this field is considerably stronger than last year’s.
Twist Of Fate is a courageous sort who was able to overcome a wide draw in the July and still run third. He will have to overcome another wide draw here. He looks to be a tough horse so can be involved in the finish despite his July exertions.
Eyes Wide Open was the unlucky horse in the July where he was well weighted, He rallied again after being squeezed out and finished a fine fourth. He now has a much tougher task at the weights.
Matador Man is an enigmatic sort who usually loses ground at the start. He is best over a mile but has a devastating turn of foot and running fresh here he could make a bold bid to repeat his third place finish of two years ago, although this is a much stronger field.
Infamous Fox loves Greyville and proved his class last time when waltzing home in the WSB 2200. However, he faces a much stronger field this time.
Kampala Kampari is the joint lowest rated horse along with Eyes Wide Open but he showed his liking for this course and distance when beating the latter to win the Grade 3 Cup Trial. He comes in fresh but is now 1kg worse off with Eyes Wide Open for a head beating and this field is also a lot stronger.
By David Thiselton