Nicci Garner: Argentinian import Hat Puntano came to South Africa with a huge reputation after winning two of three Classics in his home country, but made few friends in his local debut.
That day jockey Piere Strydom felt something was amiss with the four-year-old and did not persevere, leaving Hat Puntano trailing in 13th. Trainers Mike and Adam Azzie could find nothing wrong after the race and persevered with the horse who looks likely to join owner Drakenstein’s stallion barn when his racing career is over.
Quite a few horses imported for stud duties who are tested on South African racetracks do not make the grade, but Hat Puntano does not seem destined to become one of them after winning the R1-million Peermont Emperors Palace Charity Mile (Grade 2) over 1600m at Turffontein on Saturday.
New Predator, who won last year’s Charity Mile, was 28-10 favourite and with no pace in the race, his trainer Johan Janse van Vuuren sent his other runner, Irish Pride, out to act as the hare. He was followed by New Predator and Top Shot with Mac de Lago keeping close order, albeit three wide. Tahini was next followed by Bezanova on the rail and Finchatton with Social Order splitting them at their girths. Jockey Grant van Niekerk had Hat Puntano on the rail, inside of Classify with Forest Fox, Hermuso Mundo and Go Direct next. Bella Sonata and French Navy were ahead of Tilbury Fort.
Irish Pride lobbed along easily at the front and was more than two lengths to the good of New Predator, Top Shot and Mac de Lago, who were in a row, as the field straightened.
New Predator closed the gap but Irish Pride refused to throw in the towel and Hat Puntano was closing rapidly, with only a couple of lengths to make up going through the 600m marker. Irish Pride accelerated away again with Mac de Lago at full stretch and New Predator keeping up.
About 200m out Irish Pride started getting tired, which left New Predator at the mercy of Hat Puntano, who made short work of getting his nose in front and ran on to win by 0.75 lengths.
Social Order, the first Reserve Runner who got into the race when Kilrain was scratched, took a while to warm up in the straight and got a bit boxed, but when Lyle Hewitson extricated him, he flew to finish second, 1.60 lengths in front of French Navy, who had to weave a bit to snatch third. New Predator was fourth ahead of Tahini.
Hat Puntano, who was publicly represented on the social side of the race by boxer Kevin Lerena, ran for the Animal Anti-Cruelty League and earned the welfare organization R150,000. It was the fourth time since 2008 that the Animal Anti-Cruelty League won the biggest portion of the R1-million stake given to the 16 participating charities in the race.
“Horses make fools of everyone,” said Mike Azzie on Tellytrack afterwards. “Luckily for me today he showed his true worth.
“This horse was bought for me quite some time ago and then, due to unforeseen circumstances, he came up for sale. Thank you to Gaynor Rupert and Jaime and Mariza Vilela for putting the money down and buying him – and leaving him with me. They must have been under a lot of pressure from other parties to take him elsewhere. Thank you so much for having faith in me.
“This horse has given us a lot of problems, he was hanging, and Piere couldn’t manage him last time. He gave Piere a torrid time in the race. A lot of jockeys have been riding him in work, telling me, put a flash noseband on him, tie his mouth, tie his mouth closed. I was watching a TV programme some weeks ago, listening to Bomber Nel (a tack and equine equipment expert) and he said there’s one thing that he despises and that is tying a horse’s mouth closed.
“I was down in Mooi River at Micky Goss’ Summerhill Stud and I phoned Bomber Nel, and I said, Bomber would you mind coming up to Joburg and spending two days in my stable with me. There’s a horse I think can win the Charity Mile. He took pictures of the horse’s mouth, measured the horse’s mouth. He told me I was working the horse in the wrong bit and running the horse in the wrong bit. We measured him and we tried various bits on him, worked him in bits and did a number of things with him and eventually found the right bit for his mouth.
“Lo and behold the horse took kindly to the bit and started working as straight as an arrow and here we have the result today.”
R2.5-million Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup sponsored by CTS (Non-Black Type) 1400m
The Sean Tarry stable thinks the world of Big Bear, a R240,000 purchase at last year’s Ready To Run Sale, and he justified their faith with a R1,25-million payday in the rich Emperors Palace-sponsored race restricted to horses sold at that CTS sale.
Big Bear, the 9-2 favourite, took an immediate lead, setting the toe from his stablemate Wonderwall, who drifted from 5-2 to 5-1. Wonderwall then took over with Big Bear on the rail on the inside of Tammany Hall. Alssakhra was on Big Bear’s heels with Virga on his outside, followed by Boatswain, Onamission, Puget Sound and Riding Shotgun. Takingthepeace was right there ahead of Purple Diamond, Cash Time and Brave Mary. Vicomte was near the back ahead of Just My Style and Surcharge.
S’manga Khumalo allowed Big Bear to lengthen his stride about 400m out and he pounced on his stablemate to lead over 300m from the wire. Brave Mary was running on strongly on the inside but Big Bear had stolen a march and he won going away by 2.50 lengths with Takingthepeace staying on well for third, two lengths further back and only a short head in front of Wonderwall.
Tarry said: “The way they started (the day) I didn’t think I would be speaking to you today, but I’ll take this with both hands. I said to his owners, Chris van Niekerk and Bruce Gardner, the only way to fix up a bad day and that’s with a good horse. He certainly is that. I’m thankful he’s come through. Everything went very smoothly. Lyle (Hewitson, who rode Wonderwall) had to take the race by the scruff of the neck (from a wide draw) and thankfully they didn’t cut each other’s throats.
“I’ve always rated this horse. I’m just very pleased for the owners that he’s come through.
Khumalo said: “I knew (when he went down to the start) if he gets a good break he’ll be hard to beat. This horse just puts his head down and does what he’s asked.”
R250,000 Yellowwood Handicap (Grade 3) 1800m
Cascapedia (33-10 favourite) pulled away in the final strides to beat Al Danza and give trainer Mike de Kock his third winner from the first four races at Turffontein.
The Irish-bred three-year-old, sporting blinkers for the first time, was always well there as Runalong led from Peggy Jay, Cascapedia, Banking
April and Al Danza.
Runalong was still a length to the good as the runners cornered, followed by Banking April and Peggy Jay with Cascapedia on the rail and Al Danza keeping company just ahead of Tambalang and Royal Utopia. Bipot was on Tambalang’s heels alongside Kahlua with Patchitupbaby, Shatoosh and Babbling Brook at the back.
Cascapedia and Al Danza moved up to challenge Runalong at the 500m marker and quickly drew over a length ahead of the field, while BiPot was taking the fastest route home on the rail and closing quickly. Al Danza had nearly 0.50 lengths in hand over Cascapedia 300m out, but jockey JP van der Merwe never gave would not allow De Kock’s filly to give up and she won by less than a head.
BiPot finished 1.15 lengths further behind in third with Patchitupbaby fourth, another 0.75 lengths back.
Van der Merwe said: “I galloped her a few weeks ago and I was very happy with the work. It was quite easy. I had a nice draw, a nice light weight. The pace was good. I sat third on the rail, got into the straight, nice clear run. I joined Gavin (Lerena on Al Danza) by the 200m. I knew when I asked she’d give. My filly’s got guts and she won a good race.”
Newly married Jessica Slack, the nominee for Mauritzfontein (Pty) Ltd, who owns the winner, said: “It was so impressive, I’m so excited. She’s such a lovely horse and she looked so amazing today. Mathew (de Kock) and Mike have got her spot-on, so thank you to them.”
De Kock had won Race 1 with first-timer Buffalo Bill Cody and Race 2 with another debutante Shufoog. Both were hugely impressive and should go into punters’ notebooks.
R250,000 Princess Charlene Starling Stakes (Grade 3) 1400m
Port Elizabeth horses have not done at all badly when taking on Highveld hotshots and Yvette Bremner-trained Via Seattle (66-1) put her big-gun contemporaries away with a dominant display.
Sixth behind Varsity Girl, joint favourite Folk Dance, Sweet Juliet, Let It Flow and Serendipity as they rounded the turn, with joint favourite Silver Thursday giving quite a bit of start.
Apprentice Lyle Hewitson bided his time in the straight as Folk Dance and Varsity Girl bounded a couple of lengths clear about 500m out ahead of Sweet Juliet but without much urging the PE raider started making up ground. Most of the attention was on the two fighting it out in front, especially when Varsity Girl shifted out and then Folk Dance moved in, but Via Seattle suddenly loomed large, sweeping past 50m from the line and gliding away.
Varsity Girl threw in the towel to leave Folk Dance to chase the winner, but she was still 1.25 lengths in arrears. Silver Thursday flew late to take third, another 0.50 lengths back, while Witch Of The West ran on well for fourth ahead of Varsity Girl.
Hewitson, who has won on each of the three occasions he has partnered Via Seattle, said: “She’s done really well for me, this filly. She did win her first two starts with me on. She didn’t blow me away and obviously with a bit of time she’s grown into such a lovely strong filly.
“We came up today just hoping. She did put in a lovely gallop. We thought the 1400m might be a touch far because she’d been sprinting. But after that gallop there was a lot of confidence in the yard. We came up against these tough fillies but with a good draw, a lovely run of the race, she just put it all together today. She quickened up superbly well.”
R250,000 Graham Beck Stakes (Grade 3) 1400m
The relocation to KwaZulu-Natal has served former Vaal-based trainer Louis Goosen an excellent turn with a number of winners coming out of his stable in the last few months and his good vein of form when he raided on his old home with Zen Arcade who justified weak favouritism in beating Ideal Secret, representing the Charity Mile-winning partnership, the Azzies and Van Niekerk.
Jockey Gunter Wrogemann, who is riding supremely well at the moment had Zen Arcade placed handily alongside Hakeem as Orpheus led from Keanan’s Rock and Prince Of Khal. Zen Arcade was in midfield about seven lengths back and on the rail.
Prince Of Kahal led briefly at around the 300m marker but Zen Arcade and Ideal Secret were flying through. It got a bit tight for Ideal Secret, who also led briefly, about 200m fro0m the line, but Zen Arcade suddenly burst into another gear to win by 0.70 lengths from Ideal Secret. Prince Of Kahal was a long neck back in third.
Wrogemann said: “He’s phenomenal horse, a horse you can switch off, you know he’s going to quicken, he does everything. He makes my job easy. He’s an Ideal World with a phenomenal action, phenomenal attitude. The first time I sat on him, I told Louis, ‘GW’. He asked what I meant. I said, ‘GW, that’s the only person who’s going to ride him’.”
He continued: “We had high hopes for this horse. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him. Today was our mission – we brought him back from Durban, came to prove a point. I really rate him.”
R150,000 Golden Loom Handicap (Listed) 1000m
Graduation Day (6-1) took full advantage of a three-point drop in the ratings to win the R150,000 Golden Loom Handicap (Listed) over 1000m, flying late and beating 4-1 favourite Alfolk by a head.
Jockey Anton Marcus had Graduation Day at the back of the field as Hashtag Strat led by two lengths from Alfolk, Splendid Garden and Pera Palace. All Night Flight was right there down the inside of the track, moving smoothly into second at about the 600m marker. Alfolk and Pera Palace were right there, with Graduation Day making up ground hand over fist to get to the third wave alongside Splendid Garden and African Ruler at around the 400m marker.
Under a strong ride from the former champion jockey, Graduation Day took off in the final 200m alongside Alfolk and they crossed the line as one. Graduation Day got the verdict by a head with Hashtag Strat holding on for third, a long neck in front of Pera Palace with The Thinker another head further back in fifth.
Marcus took a poignant trip down memory lane in the post-race interview, saying: “I think it’s quite fitting that I won the race considering I probably won the most races on Golden Loom. He – and (his trainer) Buddy Maroun – were special to me. It’s an honour to win a race named for him.
“If this horse had legs he would be a weight-for-age contender. He’s plagued with unsoundness. It’s just testament to his courage every time he appears on the racecourse, whether he wins or whether he runs fourth. He’s a special horse to me.
“We were always going to ride him conservatively for the simple reason you don’t want to put him under pressure too early in a race, especially with his problems.”
Soma continued: “He’s been such a special horse. The only way I can describe it, exactly what Golden Loom was to the Abrosies and to the late Buddy Maroun, and Anton and the racing public. This is what this horse is to us. He’s a special horse because we know he’s got such a big heart. He’s got no legs. He’s run 10 times (in total) as a seven-year-old, and we’ve overraced him probably.
“The amount of work that’s gone into keeping this horse going. We know he’s got tons and tons of ability. I felt we’ve got him the soundest we’ve had him. It’s taken us a long time to get him this sound.”
Graduation Day has now won six of his 10 career starts.