Horses are generally understood to be able to cope with extreme heat provided there is a breeze. The problem at Durbanville on Saturday was that there was hardly a breath of air to alleviate the sweltering temperatures.
“We were concerned,” admitted senior stipe Ernie Rodrigues. “We decided we had to put the welfare of the horses first and so we had a meeting with the trainers and the vets (John Batt and Kate Meiring) before racing.”
The upshot was that horses were taken straight off to be hosed down when they returned to unsaddle – they didn’t have to wait to be inspected first – and extra pipes were laid on. Batt led by example, hosing down horses himself.
Justin Snaith was among those impressed – “We thought it could be bad today and we were worried but priority was given to the horses’ wellbeing.”
Some idea of the temperature can be gauged from the fact that at 4.00pm, when the heat should have abated, it was still 35 in the shade. By that stage punters were also hot under the collar – all eight favourites were beaten.
But it was an appropriate day for Meraki to strut his stuff because few horses have survived as much hardship as he has. “We bought him in Australia and he got travel sickness going from the sales to Blue Gum Farm,” related part-owner James Drew. “He then got laminitis and he got it again here. The other horses we’ve had with laminitis haven’t survived.”
The five-year-old was one of four winners to set new class records and his 1 min 22.38 sec in the Tabonline Handicap was only a tenth of a second outside the 1 400m course record set by One World in the Matchem last October. What is more he did it without Greg Cheyne even picking up his stick. “I didn’t need to and I didn’t pick it up last time I rode him either. He gives you all he’s got.”
Cheyne was also on the mark on the Hassen Adams hat-trick achieving Freedom Seeker in the TAB Telebet Handicap and, as Paddy Kruyer pointed out, Adams is part-owner of Got The Greenlight who won the SA Classic 20 minutes earlier.
Glen Kotzen’s instructions to Sandile Mbheli in the last were to ride Silver Tiara just as he had ridden Mercurana in the Kenilworth Cup. Fortunately he did not follow them with quite the same death-defying verve but he got both the message and the filly up to lead 50m out.
Mbhele was also on the mark in the first, making every metre on Blue Gangsta for Meraki’s trainer Candice Bass-Robinson who completed a treble with the well-backed Holy Warrior (Liam Tarentaal) in the 2 000m handicap.
First time blinkers appeared to transform Dark Mistress who comfortably landed the Racing Association Maiden under Anthony Andrews but Kotzen felt the weaker opposition played at least as big a part.
He said: “She is beautifully bred and cost a lot of money (R600 000) but her work has been a hell of a lot better than her form and I thought she would have won two races back.”
Greg Ennion paid tribute to his assistant Roderick Fredericks after On Captain’s Side led over a furlong out under Louis Mxothwa in the 1 250m handicap. “She is a nice filly but she is a bit of a head case and as mad as a hatter – and Roderick has worked all hours with her.”
Finally Snaith revealed what could be one of the secrets of his training skills after Peaceful Day answered Richard Fourie’s repeated calls to hold off Doppio Oro in the Betting World Handicap. “He has been a little bit disappointing – I thought he might have done something in one of the features,” said the former champion trainer. “But when they are disappointing like that I freshen them up and bring them back in distance.”
By Michael Clower