Mike Moon: The first “festival” staging of the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate at Kenilworth was graced by a memorable double from jockey Anton Marcus. He steered South Africa’s Horse of the Year Legal Eagle to a facile second consecutive victory in the Queen’s Plate itself, after driving super filly Bela-Bela to a thrilling triumph in the other Grade 1 race of the meeting, the 1800m Maine Chance Farms Paddock Stakes.
Both horses started as odds-on favourites to win and both significantly burnished their credentials for the Sun Met – Cape Town’s principal horse race which will be run later in January.
The Grade 1 R1.5-million weight-for-age L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate – one of the country’s most important “mile” races – was billed as a “boat race” between the Sean Tarry-trained Legal Eagle (13-20) and Candice Bass-Robinson’s young star Marinaresco (2-1).
The latter did not have the easiest of passages over the 1600m and could only manage to rally into fourth place at the line, but was not disgraced and remains a lively Met candidate, particularly with an extra 400m trip.
Afterwards, Marcus commented that Legal Eagle “makes life so simple” by being such a superb racehorse. And he showed how simple by strolling to the lead some 400m from the finish and then accelerating away from a floundering opposition to win by 2.25 lengths.
Captain America (28-1) stayed on well to take the second prize, doing his Met chances no harm, while Sail South (66-1) flew up from the rear to pip Marinaresco for third. At the turn Sail South was galloping a good 16 lengths off the pace.
Marcus’ ride on Bela-Bela for the Justin Snaith stable was in marked contrast to his efforts on Legal Eagle. Here, life was not simple, yet the master rider managed to cajole the grey filly to the outstanding performance of her already brilliant career.
Marcus admitted to “a few anxious moments” as the 9-10 favourite found herself shuffled back in the 12-horse field – some 12 lengths off pace-setter Sail – in the 1800m contest.
“The pace wasn’t quite pedestrian, but it wasn’t what you’d expect in a Grade 1 race. So, for her to get up from there, it was a win full of merit,” said the former national champion.
In contrast, Safe Harbour (9-2, second favourite) from the Tarry yard made the most of a handy weight of 54.5kg and the skill of Weichong Marwing to position herself just behind the early leaders, while 6-1 third favourite Silver Mountain was a little further back, but still within striking distance.
In the straight, safe Harbour and Silver Mountain surged to the front and looked like they would fight out the finish. But Marcus had hooked Bela-Bela out wide to allow her a clear run at the flyers in the straight. The daughter of Dynasty ghosted up along the outside rail to put the frighteners on some very good rivals and she won going away by 0.40 lengths.
Bela-Bela holds entries for both the Met and the Majorca Stakes, but the connections look inclined to go for the bigger prize after this sensational showing. She is currently 15-2 fourth favourite for the Met
Earlier on the card, yet another horse, Whisky Baron, thrust himself to the forefront of calculations for the Sun Met with a facile victory in the Glorious Goodwood Peninsular Handicap (Race 4). Odds on the Australian import for the Met have been clipped to 4-1 (from an opening call of 20-1) and he is now third favourite behind Legal Eagle and Marinaresco.
Piloted home by Greg Cheyne, the 16-10 favourite for the Grade 2 Peninsular made it four wins from four starts since being gelded in the middle of last year. He is the most improved horse in training in South Africa and has no obvious ceiling to his achievement.
Brett Crawford’s charge bowled along in midfield under a brisk pace, keeping within a five-length striking distance of tearaway leader Milton (35-1). With 350m left to race, Cheyne made his move and Whisky Baron cruised up to take charge and claim a two-length victory and the big chunk of a R400,000 stake.
Outsider Milton clung on tenaciously for second place, with It’s My Turn (5-1, second favourite) running on into third spot ahead of Krambambuli (22-1).
Another rising star strode onto the big stage when Horizon blitzed home in the Grade 3 Cartier Politician Stakes (Race 5). The son of Dynasty still has a long way to go before repaying his R5.2-million purchase price, but that lofty target seems possible after his dominant performance over the Kenilworth 1800m.
After the race, esteemed former trainer Mike Bass, speaking for the Hunkydory ownership syndicate, said the connections thought very highly of the three-year-old – trained by Candice Bass-Robinson – and fully expected him to make it to the top.
Horizon has won two of his five starts and was an unlucky second in a feature last time out.