THE Citizen’s racing editor, JACK MILNER, previews the Champions Challenge on Champions Day at Turffontein, Saturday.
IT IS Champions Day at Turffontein on Saturday and the principal race on the card is the R2-million President’s Champions Challenge. So does it not make sense to go with the champion trainer as well?
Europa Point is Milner’s first choice.
Mike de Kock sends out three runners for this Grade 1 race over 2000m – Europa Point, Flirtation and Safwan – and, following her remarkable victory in the Grade 1 L Jaffee Empress Club Strakes over 1600m on 10 April, Europa Point appears equipped to grab the R1.2-million winner’s cheque.
De Kock has taken his time with this daughter of Rock Of Gibraltar. One must remember that she was bred in Ireland and, as such, is six months younger than locally bred mares of her age. “She was very immature so I gave her time to develop,” said De Kock after her last victory.
Having been brought through the lower divisions, she has established an excellent record of eight wins and four places from her 12 starts. Most importantly, she has reeled off her last five victories successively. “Europa Point is an improving sort and just gets better and better,” said De Kock yesterday. “I’m very happy with the way her preparation has gone.”
She has won over the course and distance but only beat Turkish Delight by one length and De Kock’s lone concern is her ability to beat a better class of horse over 2000m. “I am confident, but that is the one question mark,” said De Kock. “Will she be as good over this distance as she is over shorter?”
There is a second factor, and that has been the addition of blinkers. Europa Point’s sequence of five victories coincides with De Kock’s decision to run her in the additional headgear. She appears to be an easy ride and is unlikely to make life difficult for jockey Anthony Delpech.
“She’s very versatile. She can switch off and has a good turn of foot and if they canter she can sit up front,” said De Kock. By De Kock guiding her through the divisions, Europa Point was treated tamely by the handicapper but, after her last victory, the expected hammer fell. Her rating was upped from 95 to 108, a penalty of 6.5kg.
Nevertheless, considering she beat Dancewiththedevil – rated 116 – at level weights by 4.50 lengths, she might still be well rated. The pair meet again at level weights and, on their last outing, St John Gray’s mare has a bit to find with Europa Point.
But somehow that run by Dancewiththedevil was too bad to be true and should be treated with scepticism. She is a lot better than that and has to be given another chance. She won the Sansui Summer Cup over this course and distance in December and is handicapped to do it again. She would benefit from a softer track and although no more rain is forecast prior to the race there was probably enough early this week to create some give in the ground.
“She got soundly beaten by Europa Point in the Empress Club Stakes last time out but she’s come out of that run relatively well and I’ve freshened her up,” said Gray. “It would be nice if we could get a bit more rain. I’ll let her do the talking on Saturday!” Gavin Lerena takes the ride again.
Bravura failed dismally in the Grade 1 HF Oppenheimer Horse Chestnut Stakes over 1600m but that was his first start on the Highveld and was clearly a warm-up for this race. That run would have brought him on and he should be cherryripe now. I am still not convinced Bravura is a genuine 2000m runner but, as was the case in the J&B Met, there is no obvious pacemaker and that might just suit jockey Anton Marcus.
Speaking on how he feels the race will pan out, De Kock said: “I can see Anton going to the front and trying to set a sedate pace. But he had better watch out. He will have the De Kock relay team on his ass!”
De Kock said he would have been happy had Flirtation gone to the front in the Grade 2 Colorado King Stakes but another runner went by to set the pace and she settled in second spot. From there she fought off the opposition to beat Galanthus by a neck, with Safwan another 0.50 lengths back in third. She is 1kg better off with Galanthus and 0.5kg to the good with Safwan and is weighted to confirm the result.
“Flirtation is well, probably the best I’ve had her for some time,” said De Kock. “She is versatile and you would be reluctant to give her too much start.”
Although not well handicapped, English Garden is good enough to win this race. He won the Grade 1 SA Classic last year and finished second in the Grade 1 SA Derby behind Seal. He had a decent enough warm-up run when just three lengths behind Flirtation in a slow-run Colorado King Stakes. “He’s doing okay,” said trainer Mike Bass. “It hasn’t been easy with him, but he didn’t run too badly last time. We’d be happy if he managed to finish in the frame. I think it’s an open race and the result will depend on who runs above himself on the day.”
Karl Neisius is in the irons.