MOTHER Russia and Flirtation will both be prepared for the 2011 Grade 1 J&B Met following exceptional performances at the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate race meeting staged at Kenilworth on Saturday.
On a splendid promotional day for South African racing, aggressively marketed by Gaynor Rupert’s Franschoek Wine Estate and Jonathan Snaith, assisted by the SAIL Group and Gold Circle, Mother Russia wrapped up the Grade 1 Queen’s Plate with a stunning 2.25-length victory over Tales Of Bravery. (headline photo).
Flirtation failed by a diminishing three-quarters of a length to reel in Emerald Cove in the Grade 1 TBA Paddock Stakes.
Mike, who watched Tellytrack’s special race day presentation live in Dubai, was delighted to have chalked up his first Queen’s Plate win, a feat many of his supporters will regard as an unusually long overdue addition to a list that includes multiple wins in every other Grade 1 race on the South African calendar.
Mike pointed out, however, that he’d only ever contested one previous running of the Queen’s Plate – the 1999 renewal in which Smart Money took fifth place behind Jet Master. The race has never been bypassed intentionally, but it is scheduled at a time of year that makes regular participation difficult for a number of logistical reasons, including the stable’s annual involvement in the Dubai Carnival with top runners exported from South Africa, and Mike’s traditionally successful preparation of his J&B Met contenders, mapped for direct raids from his Johannesburg base without having to bring the L’Ormarins day into play.
A proud moment for Mary Slack, who leads in Mother Russia (Anton Marcus).
Things are likely to change, however, as the stable’s unavoidable experiment of having to truck Mother Russia, Zirconeum and Flirtation to Cape Town ten days ahead of schedule paid off handsomely.
Mike explained: “I was quietly confident that the early travelling arrangements wouldn’t affect our runners on Saturday and that their early arrival would actually be to their benefit. This was confirmed when my assistant Tammy Dawson reported how well the trio had settled down. Their consumed more food and their work improved every day.
“I’m very pleased that everything has worked out for us, because racing’s old beliefs die hard. The issues around acclimatization have been contentious for many years, but there is no documented evidence to clear up the arguments so we had to see for ourselves.”
“Given our results on Saturday it may now be safe to say that the so-called acclimatization difficulties branded about for many years were no more than convenient excuses furnished by trainers of travelling horses that performed below expectations.
“I don’t think that ours was just a lucky escape from the perceived acclimatization voodoo. We’ll be putting early travelling to Cape Town to the test again and it might well become the norm instead of the exception when we have runners raiding down South.”
Mike praised Tammy and John Buckler for their preparation of the successful runners in his absence and said: “They work strictly according to my programmes and they’re fully capable of doing the job when I’m away. I’d be surprised if owners still find this an issue after what the members of my team have achieved on their own, dozens of times, over many years!”
Another obvious reason for Mike reportedly walking tall on celebratory paths in Dubai on Saturday night is that after their outstanding efforts Mother Russia and Flirtation will remain in Cape Town to be prepared for the Cape’s biggest race on 29 January. As things stand now, there are experts who have already predicted a repeat of the Summer Cup duel between Mary Slack’s talented mare and her younger stablemate owned by Costa Livanos.
With Mother Russia’s weekend win fresh in her memory and a significant swing in the weights to favour her mare in the Met, Mary will justifiably feel that her game daughter of Windrush will be hard to beat in her pending attempt to go one better than Ilha Da Vitoria, her illustrious predecessor who raced in the same black and red silks when beaten one length into second in the 2006 J&B Met.
Mother Russia recorded her 13th win from 26 starts and boosted her earnings to well over R4,5 million. Four of those wins are Grade 1 successes; three of the four posted in the ultra-reliable hands of Anton Marcus, who has partnered her five times in total for a 100% success rate.
“I’m running out of superlatives for Mother Russia, she’s been very good to me,” enthused Marcus after she carried him well clear of a talented field from which Tales Of Bravery was the only one to throw out anything resembling a challenge, but far too late.
“I don’t know what the winning margin was, but I think I pulled the trigger too early,” added Marcus. “The pacemakers started falling back on me at the 500m mark and when I saw Justin Snaith’s 550kg filly moving up on our outside I let my horse go. If I’d waited another second I think she would have won even easier!”
Mike disagreed with Anton’s assessment and praised SA’s reigning Champion Jockey for what he called a “perfect ride”. He said: “Anton’s timing was spot-on!”
Mary Slack, extremely proud of the chestnut mare with the notable white blaze, said: “I knew we had the draw in our favour and with Anton on board I knew Mother Russia would run well, but I didn’t expect her to won so easily.”
She noted that Mother Russia had thoroughly enjoyed a break of four months at a farm after losing her enthusiasm midway through 2010: “I’m sure she grew an inch-and-a-half while she rested on the farm. She’s getting better with age and she came to her peak in time for this race.”\
Mary will be looking forward to the day Mother Russia retires to fulfill her motherly duties at Wilgerbosdrift Stud, but she quipped that there was a single bothersome point in the mare’s success story. “I am hurt that Mother Russia was bred by Veronica Foulkes and not by Wilgerbosdrift!” With that, however, Mary winked lightheartedly at her friend from Normandy Stud, who stepped forward to receive a trophy for the latest in a string of breeding highlights for Foulkes’ establishment.
L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate day was bound to deliver a continuation of the recent big-race rivalry between Mike and Justin Snaith, the pretender to his throne who has enjoyed an excellent spell of Graded wins this season.
Snaith started the day 2-0 up on Mike in the Cape’s Grade 1 races courtesy of Ebony Flyer (who beat Igugu in the Fillies Guineas) and Solo Traveller, who had Kavanagh and Perana behind him in the equivalent race for colts.
Emerald Cove (Felix Coetzee) hangs on tight to hold off Flirtation (nearest camera), in the Paddock Stakes.
Snaith went 3-0 ahead when Emerald Cove kept going to beat Flirtation in the Paddock Stakes. Felix Coetzee rode an enterprising race on Emerald Cove by letting her off the bit a split second before Randall Simons got Flirtation into gear. Coetzee’s impeccable timing probably won the race for Emerald Cove, but in doing so she carried Flirtation several horse-widths across the track, which arguably contributed to the runner-up’s defeat.
That Flirtation ended up finishing the race widest of all after starting from a Number 2 draw wouldn’t have helped her cause much either, but Mike congratulated Snaith and his connections on their victory and swiftly put his own runner’s loss behind him.
Flirtation looked well on parade, strode out nicely and with improvement to come in the weeks leading to the Met, in which the course and distance will suit her perfectly, the Livanos family will be counting the days to 29 January.
In his winning interview after the Paddock Stakes, Snaith oozed confidence about Ebony Flyer’s prospects in the Queen’s Plate. Emerald Cove’s defeat of the smart 2010 Summer Cup winner had franked her stablemate’s already impressive form in the strongest possible way.
Snaith acknowledged that Emerald Cove’s win had given him an even greater degree of confidence just two hours away from Ebony Flyer’s keenly awaited attempt at taking on her accomplished elders in the Queen’s Plate. He told the Tellytrack interviewer that Ebony Flyer’s rivals should consider themselves lucky that she was to jump from a wide draw, a comment which seemed to serve as further encouragement for punters to put their money on her number.
Ebony Flyer shortened from 4-1 to 3-1 and was her usual impressive self in the canterdown to the Queen’s Plate’s 1600m starting gates. Coetzee brought her swiftly across to race on the heels of the pacemakers and in a position more or less parallel to Mother Russia, who was lobbing along rhythmically in her own spot on the fence.
The stage was set for the long-anticipated grandstand finish when the frontrunners dropped away and for a moment it looked as if Ebony Flyer would loom up to Mother Russia’s girth to lay down a challenge.
However, as noted above, Anton Marcus stepped hard on the pedal when the younger filly produced what would only be a shadow attack. Ebony Flyer was visibly under pressure to make an impact and while she gave of her best, the gap between her and Mother Russia was widening at the line.
“The pace was very fast and it suited only one man, Mike de Kock,” Snaith said after the race. He suggested that he would have reconsidered Ebony Flyer’s participation in this race if he’d known that it would turn out to be such a hard contest for his runner.
Mike chirped in response: “That was a strange remark to make. Justin knew full well that he would be up against the big guns. He should have anticipated a hot pace. I think he might be suffering from over-confidence. He should come to Johannesburg or Dubai so we can teach him about pace!”
Mike said that he would not have raced Ebony Flyer in the Queen’s Plate to start with, but added: “Justin and Team Valor have had some fantastic results all over the world recently. They can be forgiven for feeling invincible.”
Refresh this screen or home page (several times if necessary) for replay of Mother Russia’s win in Mdk Video Feature.