Cape Racing’s Head Of Racing Operations Justin Vermaak has been a busy man since taking office in July and the announcement this week of multiple changes to the pattern of feature races in the Western Cape is another feather in the cap of the new management team who have made great strides to raise the status and profile of South Africa’s key horseracing region.
Important changes and stakes increases to the 3yo and sprint programmes, and a commercially incentivised deviation from tradition with the opening to all ages of the prestigious Winter Series triple crown, are amongst some material efforts to raise the Cape to its place as the destination of champions and best place to race in SA.
“We are very excited with the extensive changes and as a start, good news for the region is the upgrade of the Cape Mile from a non black-type feature to a Gr3 as a result of the strength of the last few runnings of this event. Fans may recall that the very smart Warrior beat Rascallion and Kommetdieding in 2021. The race has been used by some top horses over recent years as a stepping-stone and the stake has been upped to R250 000 this year. It will be run on 5 November as a springboard into the WSB Gr2 Green Point Stakes on 3 December,”explained Justin Vermaak in a chat with the Sporting Post.
The changes have been bolstered with major stakes increases for a host of races across the spectrum, including the Gr2 Western Cape Fillies Championship which has been upped from R150 000 to R400 000 and the Gr2 Concord Cup (the old Selangor Cup) which goes from R175 000 to R500 000.
“The Western Cape Fillies Championship was always run five weeks before the WSB Cape Fillies Guineas, so we moved it to 3 weeks away and placed the Prestige Plate in its old slot to create a nice programme into the prestigious fairer sex classic. The Cape Oaks, run for a stake of R350 000, is the old Winter Oaks/River Jetez and has been moved forward to the Cape Summer Festival season final. The Clapham Stakes has been introduced on Met day as an 1800m prep race run for R175 000,” added Vermaak.
The new look 3yo filly programme:
- October 22: NBT Prestige Plate
- November 12: Gr2 WC Fillies Championship
- December 3: Gr1 WSB Cape Fillies Guineas
- January 31: NBT Clapham Stakes
- February 25: Listed Cape Oaks
The colts’ programme is largely intact but has benefitted from substantial stakes hikes, including the Hollywoodbets Cape Guineas being run on 17 December for R2 million – that’s a quantum leap from the R750 000 of the past two covid-inflicted years!
The Jonsson Workwear Cape Derby has enjoyed a 50% prize increase to R1,5 million, while the Cape Classic has doubled in stake to R250 000.
Another fascinating contest on the 3yo calendar is the R7,5 million WSB Gold Rush, a race restricted to eligible candidates of the 2021 Cape Premier Yearling Sale. ‘Slots’ in the race are owned by the 16 ‘prospectors’ and the event is run on the lines of the Everest.
The 3yo colts programme:
- October 22: Gr3 Cape Classic
- November 19: Gr2 Selangor Cup
- December 17: Gr1 HWB Cape Guineas
- January 22: Gr3 Politician Stakes
- February 25: Gr1 Jonsson Workwear Derby
The speed programme in the summer is always an attraction for visitors and has been streamlined, with the Southeaster Sprint moving to October, and the new Bantry Bay now run in November.
The Cape Merchants (upped from R175 000 to R450 000) will now be held in December to create a good flow of feature sprints.
“Previously the Merchants was run in November and then there was a massive gap to the Gr1 Cape Flying Championship at the end of January. The Cape Flying Championship boasts a terrific speed honour roll down the years and enjoys a 25% stake hike to R1,25 million,” said the excited Vermaak.
The new-look Sprint programme:
- October 22: Listed Southeaster Sprint and NBT Need For Speed for 3yos.
- November 12: NBT The Bantry Bay Stakes
- December 11: Gr2 Cape Merchants
- January 7: NBT Winchester Sprint Cup
- January 28: Gr1 Cape Flying Championship
- February 25: Gr2 Khaya Diadem
Won by only three champions in Pocket Power, African Night Sky and Singapore-bound Katak over many years, the WSB Winter Series, which has been made up of races restricted to three-year olds, has been opened up to allow horses of all ages. These races will be run at WFA terms plus conditions for stakes winners.
“The quality of the running of these races has tapered off in recent years in light of the reduced population of horses which has left less depth remaining behind in the Western Cape in the 3yo department. Coinciding with the fact that there is no opportunity for good older horses over these distances in winter, we decided to open them up which is going to make for some exciting winter clashes between the younger and older brigade. This applies to the fairer sex equivalent series of races as well,” said Vermaak.
So how will the traditionalists react to the changes and opening of the Winter Series?
“We have had to take a pragmatic view of things and be realistic. Every move and change we have made has been considered at length and made with racing’s best interests first and foremost. A few trainers canvassed have reacted positively and we believe the amendment to the patterns will afford us a genuine opportunity to raise the standard of our racing and restore the confidence of all stakeholders, so that we can enjoy the sport and it can prosper,” concluded Vermaak.