STAR sprinter Shea Shea (photo) reigned victorious for Mike de Kock’s stable on Super Saturday at Meydan in Dubai on an occasion at which members of trainer Saeed bin Suroor’s mighty Godolphin string overpowered the opposition in four of the seven thoroughbred contests, including two Group 1’s.
Godolphin’s powerhouses ran gallant De Kock campaigners down in the dying stages of two races, preventing what would have been a massively successful evening for South Africa’s leading trainer.
Mike de Kock, Brian Joffe and Geoff Woodruff in the winner’s circle with Shea Shea (Christophe Soumillon up).
All the same, Super Saturday proved to be another good advertisement for South Africa’s racing industry. In addition to winning the Listed Meydan Sprint over 1000m in track record time with the super impressive Shea Shea, Mike saddled three seconds and a fourth place.
Shea Shea, a South African-bred by National Emblem from Yankee Clipper was raised at Klawervlei Stud, the country’s hard-knocking pretender to the breeding throne. He was sold for R550,000 (approximately $US60,000) at BloodStock SA’s 2009 Emperors Palace National Yearling Sale.
The five-year-old gelding is owned in partnership by the Bidvest Group’s founder Brian Joffe and his long-time business associate Myron Berzack. They bought him for former SA Champion Trainer Geoff Woodruff, who prepared him for eight wins in his native country, including two Gr1’s.
Shea Shea, ridden by Christophe Soumillon, won in spectacular fashion. He closely tracked the leaders approaching the 400m mark, then took command with a minimum of fuss. He won unextended, putting an easy 2.5-lengths between himself, the runner-up Sole Power and 14 other rivals. Among them were the individual winners of one Gr1 race, two Gr2’s, two Gr3’s and six Listed events.
The manner of Shea Shea’s win was a huge thrill for his connections and supporters all over the world, but Mike enjoyed even better moments on the gelding’s return to the winner’s enclosure.
He said: “Brian and Geoff flew over to watch the race and to witness Brian’s pure joy was heartwarming. To see a man who conducts billion dollar deals almost every day of the week overcome with emotion and pride was hugely gratifying.
“Geoff, too, was proud as punch. He came along to support what was formerly his yard’s best horse and while it couldn’t have been easy, he participated with a touching enthusiasm. My sincere thanks go to Geoff and his team for teaching Shea Shea the ropes as a young horse, bringing him through the ranks so successfully and passing him on to us for his international exploits.”
Mike said that Shea Shea would be aimed at the Gr1 Al Quoz Sprint ($1-million) over the same course and distance on Dubai World Cup night, Saturday 13 March – the same race won by South African-bred JJ The Jet Plane in 2011.
He added: “Shea Shea is a terrific horse. He just needed his Dubai debut on 31 January when he finished five lengths off the winner, gained experience on the track and wasn’t punished to finish closer. He’s made massive improvement since, working with him has been awesome!”
The Apache (yelllow and blue silks), ran his heart out, but Sajjhaa collared him close home.
Mike was full of praise, too, for another South African-bred runner The Apache (Soumillon), who ran his heart out in the Gr1 Jebel Hatta over 1800m on turf, taking second to Godolphin’s formidable mare Shajjhaa, beaten only three-quarters of a length.
He said: “The Apache is a much improved horse and he ran out of his skin. Coming to the 200m-mark he had the race by the scruff of the neck and we were getting ready to celebrate when Sajhaa came storming up to deny him a big win.”
Champion mare Igugu was in the firing line at the business end, but ran out of steam again, confirming Mike’s pre-race assessment that she was still below best and that this run would serve to bring her to a peak. (See report elsewhere).
Talented Secret Number proved too classy for Zahee, outpaced late.
Earlier in the day Zahee (Soumillon) had also fallen prey to a late-charging Godolphin representative.
Well fancied for the Al Bastakiya over 1900m on the all-weather, Zahee appeared to have done enough when he broke smartly away from the pack with 450m to run and set sail for home.
But Kieren Fallon had other ideas on three-year-old colt Secret Number, a smart and lightly-raced son of Raven’s Pass who has been kept under the radar by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s wily team in blue.
While Zahee was on his bicycle and getting to within sight of glory, Secret Number had made steady progress in the middle of the track. He reeled in the leader with 100m to run and ran on by for a win that carried much promise.
“Zahee ran a cracker too. He gave his absolute best, but Godolphin’s battleship packed too much class. It’s hard to compete against them, sometimes discouraging when you have a good horse racing at his peak and doing everything right, only to be stuck away close to the line by yet another of Saeed bin Suroor’s high-class prospects. But we live to fight another day,” Mike mused.
Await The Dawn, strongly fancied to win the Gr2 Dubai City Of Gold over 2410m on turf following a return to his capable best, surprisingly also found one to beat him. The conqueror came from Marco Botti’s stable in the form of seven-year-old entire Jakkalberry, lurking on the heels of Await The Dawn as they turned for home. The big stayer was pulled out for a run, kicked swiftly into stride and sneakily pinched three-quarters of a length on the well-backed favourite.
The race was duly on just seconds after that and Jakkalberry was challenged on both flanks, but he stuck relentlessly to his guns under master jockey Ryan Moore. With Cavalryman also joining the fray to stake his claim, a thrilling tussle ensued and lasted all the way to the line.
Jakkalberry (left), fought tooth and nail to hold Await The Dawn (middle) at bay.
Await The Dawn was arguably the victim of a pathetically slow early pace that picked up momentum in snatches and in the process jolted what was going to be an easy journey out of its expected steady running rhythm. He was caught momentarily flatfooted on the turn and while jockey Pat Cosgrave threw all but the kitchen sink at the six-year-old to get onto terms with the leader, Jakkalberry kept digging tenaciously to win by half a length.
Commentator Terry Spargo, clocking ridiculously slow fractions over the first 800m, had peppered his delivery with apt descriptions of the senseless muddling. Spargo’s “the brakes are on” and “they’re going at a crawl” served to confirm what was developing into sheer aggravation among race watchers on the Meydan grandstand and around the world – some of whom would have feared after the first half-mile that the writing was on the wall for a punter-friendly result.
Mike, however, cautioned against proportioning undue blame on either the pace or Cosgrave. He said: “In my opinion Await The Dawn gave a good account of himself. He tried hard and started to gain again late, but he was beaten by what is a tough, accomplished 11-time winner in Jakkalberry.
“It slipped our minds that Marco Botti’s horse came into this race having won ten races, including a Group 1 early in his career. He’d also finished close up in third in last year’s Melbourne Cup. That was a brilliant run and indicative of his ability. He’s absolutely no slouch and produced his best on the night to beat us. I’m not going to use the pace or anything else as an excuse; we were beaten by a good horse. That’s just the way it happened. This is racing!”
Photos by Andrew Watkins.