It’s an amusing irony that South Africa’s biggest sprint racing day – the so-called “Festival of Speed” – is held in Maritzburg, one of the sleepier, slower-moving cities in the country.
In the bad old days, Maritzburg’s apparent languor had a lot to do with the city’s stateliness as the provincial capital and the attitude of quiet dignity its inhabitants assumed. Not that anyone wanted to be seen as sluggish – indeed, the city’s nickname “Sleepy Hollow” was strictly banned from the pages of the local newspaper.
Nowadays, the place is a tip. The grand Victorian architecture is still everywhere, but all graciousness is gone. The municipality has been misgoverned and looted to hell, leaving the valley with a feeling of disconnect and decay. So, it’s still sleepy, but with litter and flies.
Happily, the horse racing speed fest still infuses an annual burst of energy. The 2022 edition takes place on Saturday 4 June, with the usual four Grade 1 dashes up the daunting 1200m straight at Scottsville racecourse.
The two juvenile contests, the Gold Medallion for open company and the Allan Robertson Championship for fillies, are notoriously hard races to analyse.
Precocious young things descend on Scottsville from all parts of the country to try to make a name for themselves. So, there is negligible collateral form scraps of form we do have are flimsy given the performance volatility of two-year-olds, bless ’em.
It’s a bit of a lottery and the two races probably get more scrutiny from breeders than punters. Punters do need to pay some attention, however, as the Medallion and Allan Robertson form part of the meeting’s Jackpot 1, aka the “Super Sprint Jackpot”.
Early betting for the Allan Robertson, at 4-1 the field, gives us no hint whatsoever about stable fancies. It’s good to see Eastern Cape hotshots, Gavin Smith and Alan Greeff in town to try their luck and you could do worse than side with the former’s Ekoria at 9-1. Sometime ace jockey Weichong Marwing has made an encouraging start to his training career and will have invested a lot of work into his runner Time For Glory.
Corne Spies’s unbeaten gelding Prophet is an 18-10 chance in the Gold Medallion, a price that suggests a banker possibility. That would not be a good idea; going wide is advisable. Greeff’s Cliff Top, Johan Janse van Vuuren’s Karangetang, Sean Tarry’s Thunderstruck and others should go in.
The banker choice has to be Captain’s Ransom, the mighty filly from Justin Snaith’s yard who has won 10 of her 12 starts, over distances from 1200m to 1800m. She goes in the SA Fillies Sprint and her stamina capabilities will be perfect for a famous test of heart and durability – and will help her overcome what is sometimes seen as a disadvantageous wide draw.
The Golden Horse Sprint has another horse drawn in gate 15 at the top of the boards, namely Dean Kannemeyer-trained Cosmic Highway, who was a close-up fourth to July hope Zapatillas in the recent KwaZulu-Natal Guineas over 1600m. Again, that stamina capacity is a big plus. However, this race is far from cut and dried, with the likes of Smorgasbord, Good Traveller, Eden Roc, Real Gone Kid and Global Drummer surely worth careful consideration.
Race 5 (Allan Robertson):
6 Ekoria, 4 Time For Glory, 10 River Queraress, 9 Ameena
Race 6 (Gold Medallion):
1 Prophet, 10 Karangetang, 4 Cliff Top, 6 Captain Bombshell
Race 7 (SA Fillies Sprint):
15 Captain’s Ransom, 7 Santa Maria, 2 Sound Of Warning, 10 Under Your Spell
Race 8 (Golden Horse):
8 Smorgasbord, 15 Cosmic Highway, 6 Good Traveller, 12 Eden Roc