Mike Moon: Trainer Brett Crawford is having a golden season in KwaZulu-Natal and he swooped on a third Grade 1 trophy in just eight days when his gallant old-timer Captain America outgalloped the opposition in the 1600m Rising Sun Gold Challenge on Saturday.
Afterwards, Crawford said “a more genuine horse than Captain America uou won’t find”. The six-year-old son of Captain Al has won nine of his 27 races and accumulated nearly R5 million in prize money.
Captain America was once considered too big-striding and headstrong for the tight triangle that is Greyville Racecourse. But this time around, starting at 5-1 and in the hands of Corne Orffer, he quickly got across from Gate No 11 and found a perfect galloping spot on the flanks of pacemaker Janoobi. In the straight, he piled on the pressure and Janoobi fell away.
It became a game of catch-me-if-you-can, as the big fellow ploughed his way resolutely up the inside rail.
Trip To Heaven (6-1), usually campaigned in sprints, missed the break and was trailing the pack by three lengths within the first 100m. But jockey S’Manga Khumalo gathered him together and at the line was travelling quicker than anything else. But the Sean Tarry-trained gelding could only get to within 1.50 lengths of Captain America and reprised his second place in the same race last year.
The grey filly Bela-Bela (7-1) ran a very good Durban July preparation, galloping on smartly into third position over a trip a bit sharp for her. Her July odds of 33-1 will surely to shorten.
Other horses running Durban July preparations included the defending champ The Conglomerate, who persevered into fifth place and might have needed the outing to build condition.
The Greyville 1600m might have been a bit sharp for the likes of Saratoga Dancer, Brazuca, Master Sabina, Marinaresco (28-10 favourite) and French Navy, who all finished downfield and will ease a point or few on the July boards if they stand their ground after these disappointing efforts.
Elusive Silva sealed his place in the July when he beat a strong field in an earlier race on the Greyville card, the Grade 3 Cup Trial over 1800m.
Justin Snaith’s four-year-old ran indifferently in the Greyville 1900 three weeks ago, a performance the trainer attributed to a rain-affected build-up. But the highly regarded son of Silvano, starting at 5-1, put the record straight by pipping a speedy Crowd Pleaser (16-1), with stable companion and fellow July aspirant Black Arthur (26-10) in third place.
Crowd Pleaser cut out the fractions at a leisurely pace, followed by Celtic Captain, Master Switch, Nebula (22-10 favourite), Black Arthur and Elusive Silva, who was well-positioned five lengths off the pace.
In the straight, it came down to a thrilling, three-way, neck-and-neck battle to the wire. Elusive Silva did not make jockey Richard Fourie’s job easy by tending to hang in, onto Black Arthur. With a loose rein yanked to the outside, Fourie got the gelding up in the final stride to nose out the still-flying Crowd Pleaser.
Black Arthur – not in the July 25-horse log but fairly short in the ante-post betting at 9-1 – was 0.55 lengths behind the winner. He probably didn’t do enough to clinch himself a spot in the Greatest Horse Race in Africa.
Other July hopefuls Royal Badge, Nebula, Trophy Wife and Master Switch didn’t shape and all look certain to miss the cut.
By contrast, the filly Nightingale, currently 18th on the July log, did her chances of making the final field little harm in finishing fast to grab second place behind the impressive Just Sensual in the Tibouchina Stakes (Grade 2), Race 5 on the programme.
Three-year-old Just Sensual isn’t among the entries for the big one on July 1, but she is certainly climbing quickly to the top of the South African racing tree. Having her second run after a break – the first resulting in a runner-up spot to the remarkable Carry On Alice in the 1200m SA Fillies Sprint at Scottsville – the Joey Ramsden charge used her powerful big stride to mow down the opposition in the final 200m of this 1400m contest.
From the No 7 gate in a 14-strong field, Anton Marcus positioned Just Sensual (16-10 favourite) some six lengths off the pace, which was being set by outsiders Neala and Elusivenchantment.
As the runners fanned out from the false rail, Marcus steered Just Sensual to the wide outside and sent her about her business.
Meanwhile, Anna Pavlova (25-1) was making a spirited bid up the inside rail, with Neala still hanging tough and Nightingale (17-2) stalking Just Sensual after overcoming her wide draw.
Just Sensual held off the charging Nightingale by 0.50 lengths, with Anna Pavlova in third.
Marcus declared himself “a little disappointed” with Just Sensual’s showing as he’d expected an easier victory. He said she’d have to “up her game” for the Garden Province Stakes on July Day.
Ramsden wasn’t bothered with the victory margin. “I’m just glad to have a winner,” he said, adding that Just Sensual was “right up there” with the best fillies he has trained.
Just Sensual has now won five of eight starts and about R1.5 million.