“I’m speechless!” exclaimed owner Costa Livanos after he and wife Billy Anne’s four-year-old filly Flirtation produced a powerful charge from off the pace to win Saturday’s Grade 1 Sansui Summer Cup over 2000m at Turffontein from stable companion Mother Russia.
Mike de Kock stated on this website and in the racing media his high regard for Flirtation not long after she joined the stable. Her stunning success in this R2-million race was ultimately a confirmation of her ability and no surprise at all to her connections.
That said, chances are that Flirtation enjoyed assistance of a more impalpable nature.
Costa revealed on Saturday evening that a personal decision to take a step back from his everyday concerns about his horses in training might well have changed his fortunes in racing. He’s owned any number of hard-knocking feature-race campaigners in roughly 30 years in racing, including Ulterior Motive, Mighty Mandarin, Oliva’s Joy and more recently Admiral Bolitho and Gang Related, but a ‘Big One’ had eluded the Livanos family until now.
Flirtation (old gold silks, Randall Simons), pounces upon Mother Russia.
He explained: “In times gone by I allowed myself to get perhaps too intimately involved in my horses. Sometimes I got upset or disillusioned when my runners didn’t perform to my expectations or matters didn’t turn out the way I’d expected. Invariably this created pressure for everyone involved.
“But one eventually comes to accept that what will be, will be and I’ve let things go. In Mike de Kock we have a master trainer who is in full control. I sit back and relax, Mike carries on with his job and we’re getting the results. This doesn’t mean that we’ve stopped loving our horses. Billy Anne and I still take great pleasure in visiting them when we can!”
Costa went to R350 000 to secure Flirtation at the 2008 Emperors National Yearling Sale. He tells: “She is a half-sister to our other decent horse Eiffel, who was incidentally given to me by my then partner George O’Brien when he was cutting down on his racing stock a few years ago.
“We are very fond of Eiffel, he’s won us a few good races and is on the comeback trail as we speak, so when I saw his close relation in the catalogue I decided immediately to buy her. I went to the sales grounds to inspect Flirtation and she happened to be a terrific specimen, everything in the right places.”
Mike and Diane share a happy moment with Flirtation’s groom, “Creamy”.
Flirtation is by the extraordinary successful stallion Silvano, who sired last year’s Summer Cup winner Aslan and this year’s Durban July winner Bold Silvano, who is expected to pay further tribute to his formidable sire at the 2011 Dubai Carnival.
Several friends and fellow-patrons who congratulated Costa after Flirtation’s win on Saturday noted that he was looking healthier and happier than they’d seen him in ages. Something is obviously doing the trick and Costa is the kind of individual who likes to apply methods that work!
Mike added to that: “It seems that Costa has found the secret to staying youthful. He looks more or less exactly the same than he did 30 years ago. Costa and his brother Lolly were already local legends when most of us, the current industry workers, entered the game in the late 70s and early 80s. I am very pleased, proud to have trained this winner for him and I speak on behalf of my team too.”
Flirtation was given a polished ride by young Randall Simons, growing steadily in confidence, along with that his base of supporters. He’s a balanced rider with a calm demeanour and he doesn’t lack the competitive edge needed to make it in the big league.
Going through the 400m mark Flirtation was 10 lengths off the pace and travelling well, but at this point Simons was faced with the critical choice of weaving his way through traffic on the inside or pulling his mount out for a run around their tiring stablemate Zirconeum, who was starting to shorten her stride and became a potential hindrance.
Simons wasted no time in going for option two, not in reality an automatic choice as he had only a second to switch Flirtation sharply to the outside and into galloping space which wouldn’t have been there if he’d hesitated as two other runners on her heels were about to compete for the same legroom. Arguably this decisive move won the Cup for Flirtation, who bounced into the clear and gave Simons his chance to step immediately on her fuel pedal. (See mdkracing.com’s Video Feature on Home Page for the Summer Cup replay, you may need to refresh several times for this specific replay to load – it is part of a randomly rotating video queue, so don’t despair if it doesn’t appear immediately!)
The Equine Group of Durban’s long-time staffer Darren de Wet, a knowledgeable and experienced race reader in his own right, made what friends in his company considered an apt remark after Randall had closed the meeting with a winner in Race 10 (his fifth of the week). “Randall reminds me of Gavin Howes in his heyday. He’s not a flashy rider, but quietly very effective and deceptively good!”
Mother Russia was game in defeat and Mike commented: “She put everything into her run under a big weight, she gave her best on the day. Her super effort was just not good enough this time, but we’re proud of her all the same, she came close to pulling it off. Let me also add something that should be carefully noted, Mother Russia was beaten by a very talented filly. Flirtation was well handicapped, but believe me she is a top class race filly. She will hold her own anywhere.”
Onto the favourite Perana, who found it difficult to quicken after setting the gallop. “Anthony (Delpech) was forced to go to the front, we didn’t plan it that way but there wasn’t much going on over the first few hundred metres and he found himself in the lead. He ran well considering that things didn’t go his way. He’s a young, talented horse with experience and maturity to come and this won’t be the last you hear of him.”
Rudra, the 2008 winner, made his connections proud and happy with a strong-finishing fifth, banking R50,000 for his workmanlike effort.
‘JP’ steers improving galloper Il San Pietro home.
Mike followed his ninth Summer Cup victory with a win in the Grade 3 RA Handicap over 3200m with improving stayer Il San Pietro (JP van der Merwe), who gallops with a good deal of determination when he’s in form. Il Sanpietro, owned by Paulo Caesar, looked like he wanted to go round again when he reached the winning post.
Link Man ran a cracker in the Merchants over 1160m. He was only collared late in the contest by the older and more experienced Arabian Mist, a formidable rival at his best, which was produced as unexpected on Saturday as it was in this very race almost a year ago to the day.
Photos by JC Photographics.