ILITSHE (yellow and blue silks, Anthony Delpech, photo) dug down determinedly and hung on by a whisker to win Saturday’s Listed Derby Trial over 2000m on the standside track at Turffontein from the grey Everest and Leeuloop Jet.
Ilitshe had a length to spare over his rivals with the winning post just 100m away, but Everest found a second wind and in a driving finish came mighty close to running the Mike de Kock runner down, indeed it looked like Randall Simons may have pushed his mount’s grey nose in front as they hit the wire.
Touch and go it was, but after studying the photo the judge awarded the race to Ilitshe. That’s really all that mattered to Delpech, who remains unbeaten on Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum’s charge, having partnered him to a hat-trick of workmanlike wins in the last six-odd weeks. Delpech will be weighing up his chances of a four-timer because Ilitshe’s way of running suggests that he’ll be well suited by 2450m when the Derby is contested at the city track on Champions Day, 26 April.
It will be interesting to see if the jock decides to stay with Ilitshe. His useful stable mates Umgiyo, Taarish and Gone Baby Gone are also among the nominations and it won’t be all that easy to anticipate which one will make the most improvement in the run-up to the Gr1 marathon for three-year-old stayers.
They may all be hard-pressed to beat Geoff Woodruff’s top class, Triple Crown-seeking runner, Louis The King, but no horse race is ever over until the number’s in the frame. The Derby has a knack of throwing up unexpected results. Assistant trainer Mathew De Kock knows that all too well – a few years ago the rising star Piere Jourdan drew a huge crowd to Turffontein for his own attempt at lifting the elusive crown, but was beaten in the region of 10 lengths by the De Kock stable’s then new acquisition Irish Flame, who excelled at the excruciating journey and enjoyed the soft track condition on the day.
“They’ll have us to beat,” Matt predicted in reference to the Derby after Ilitshe’s win. “Well done to Nathan Kotzen and the Durban team. Ilitshe was sent to us on Wednesday and he arrived in impeccable condition. We didn’t do much with him here, we’d heard he was a difficult horse but there were no problems with him this week.”
Delpech commented: “There was no pace today and knowing that Ilitshe wouldn’t sprint away I was happy to let him gallop out in front with the rest having to come at him. They actually headed us in the straight and Ilitshe came back to win a good race. He looked around when he was in front, but when the penny drops he’ll be a proper horse, I like him. I was worried about his mental attitude today because he is troublesome in work, but he won a great race, he will improve.”
Ilitshe is by Fastnet Rock (AUS) from a Sadler’s Wells mare and he’s won over R200,000 in only six starts.
Celtic Legend, more wins expected. (JC Photos)
Jockey Tshwaro Appie rode a confident race on Celtic Legend to post the yard’s second winner of the afternoon in Race 10 over 1400m. Celtic Legend, also contesting her sixth career run, had been campaigning in Graded company since winning her June 2013 debut and this must have escaped the attention of many punters – she drifted from 6s to 7s in the market despite dropping into a MR72 Handicap and having a winning bet placed on her by owner Andre Macdonald, on course to lead in his winner afterwards.
‘Mr Mac’paid a visit to the stables at Randjesfontein during the week and said he’d gotten enough confidence from Mathew de Kock to support his runner. “I think Celtic Legend is a decent filly, she’s had some bad luck with wide draws in the Graded races. She will win again.”
Bred at Balmoral Stud, Celtic Legend is a daughter of Stronghold. She was a R300,000 purchase at the 2012 Emperors Ready To Run Sale and she shouldn’t have much trouble recovering at least the bulk of it for the veteran owner. Celtic Legend justifiably looked a division above her rivals and (with more favourable draws, perhaps) could land a small feature this season.