Many punters never saw it coming but Cape trainer Glen Kotzen had confidence and with Eyes Wide Open in the hands of a rejuvenated jockey Warren Kennedy, the stage was set for a thrilling finish as the four-year-old Dynasty colt was driven under a powerful ride in the closing stages to win the R500 000, Grade 2 World Sports Betting 1900 at Greyville in Durban on Saturday.
In a race that produced drama from the very start, it turned into a battle charge in the home straight as victory looked possible for any number of the 12 runners with the outcome depending on riding power and staying ability. With about a length separating the first seven horses past the post, it was a close call where Eyes Wide Open emerged the victor.
In that thrilling finish one of the most impressive performances was produced by the Justin Snaith-trained Horse Chestnut gelding Magnificent Seven that raced handy throughout under Luke Ferraris and fought a gallant finish for a close second ahead of stable companion Made To Conquer and Fresnaye from the Joey Ramsden yard.
The drama began when favourite Orpheus became unsettled in the pens and fly-jumped to lose about three lengths when the gates burst open. Adding to the problem, jockey Marco van Rensburg lost his left stirrup and the combination found themselves at the back of the field instead of playing the hare with a strong front-running performance similar to when they won the recent The Sledgehammer.
Van Rensburg tried to recover the plan by bringing the Western Winter gelding round the outside of the field to take up the lead ahead of Kampala Kampari, Magnificent Seven and Doublemint. In the meantime, as the field raced through the 900m mark the Duncan Howells-trained filly Fiorella faltered slightly sending jockey Muzi Yeni flying to the ground. He was treated by the course doctor and officials before being sent to hospital for x-rays.
The race came down to a final battle in the home straight and after his early exertion, Orpheus cried enough as the field swamped him – a performance that is best ignored. Eyes Wide Open showed his classy potential in that fighting finish and together with his overall record, he now deserves serious consideration for a place in the Grade 1 Vodacom Durban July on July 6.
Earlier, in the Listed East Coast Cup, July contender Roy’s Riviera from the Frank Robinson stable threw her hat into the ring with a sparkling performance beating outsider Perfect Air across the line. Favourite, Miyabi Gold did not cover herself in glory when only managing third place ahead of Sabina’s Dynasty.
The Andre Nel-trained July entry Head Honcho had been seen as the exotic bet banker of the day when running in the Ten Gun Salute Pinnacle Stakes, but he was beaten into second place by the Sean Tarry stable inmate Matador Man. However, being his first run since finishing third in the Sun Met and his victory last year in the Grade 3 Betting World 2200 on July day, his chances of a big race berth should still be strong.