Jack Milner: Training horses is by no means a stress-free occupation. It’s long hours, high expectations, often for little reward.
But when Sean Tarry finally closed his eyes on Saturday night, he must have been filled with pride.
The last year has been testing for the racing industry but through it all the Tarry stable continued to deal with all the issues and it all came together at Turffontein on Saturday when he came away with six winners.
Not any six, but a half-dozen that included the R2-million G-Bets Gauteng Summer Cup, the Grade 2 Merchants and the Listed Secretariat Stakes.
There were also two Maiden Plate winners who look well above average and that all bodes well for the future of the yard.
“I thought it would be tough today, and would have been happy with two winners,” said Tarry. “But as the day went on I grew more confident, as you do when things go your way.”
Four of the winners are owned by stable stalwart Chris van Niekerk while four were ridden by Lyle Hewitson, the apprentice who has taken South African racing by storm and is currently the champion man in the saddle.
But nothing could have pleased Tarry more than the victory of Tilbury Fort in the Summer Cup. This is a horse he has always believed in and kept saying – after two narrow defeats over 1800m and 1600m respectively – his charge would stay 2000m.
Last Friday, at Mike de Kock’s annual Christmas lunch, we sat with joint owner Mark Currie who was extremely confident with the one proviso – will the son of Horse Chestnut stay the distance. Even when Tarry gave his final instructions to Hewitson he advised him to ride the gelding “economically”
Hewitson heeded the advice and had the five-year-old near the rear of the field while Cash Time cut out the forecast pedestrian pace from Dawn Assault and favourite Cascapedia. When Cash Time faded out Cascapedia moved in with Dawn Assault looking to cause an upset.
All the while Tilbury Fort slowly began to wind his way through the field and despite Hewitson having a few anxious moments at around the 300m mark when things got a bit tight, he flashed through the middle of the field and got to the front close home to beat Dawn Assault by 0.60 lengths. Cascapedia was just a long head further back with Coral Fever running on powerfully for fourth.
Tilbury Fort went off at 15-2. Tarry scored a double as he won the race last year with Liege, giving him his third success in the race.
“This is my third Grade 1 winner but it was really special because I won it with a horse I’ve done a lot of work on and who has been good to me,” said Hewitson.
While there had been some concern expressed that Tilbury Fort had only had one run since coming back from a rest but Tarry was not bothered. “Tilbury Fort likes racing fresh, so I wasn’t worried about it being his second outing after a rest.”
Hewitson was also delighted when his favourite horse, Africa Rising, won the Grade 2 Merchants over 1160m. He lost some ground at the start but then moved up smartly to beat Romi’s Boy by 1.40 lengths.
Tarry said during the week he had expected a good run from the five-year-old son of Visionaire so it was surprising to see him go off at 17-1.
He was the fourth winner for Van Niekerk who just loves the game. He gave a piece of advice to owners. “Expect nothing, and appreciate every win you have,” he said.
Tarry also won Race 2 with Mythical Bolt who was perceived to be the best bet on the card and went off at 4-10, as well as Race 9 with Zillzaal. The daughter of Silvano won by three lengths and both will pay to follow.
Mike de Kock may not have had the day he might have expected but he still came away with two winners. Nafaayes scored an easy win in the Grade 2 Ipi Tombe Challenge, beating Al Danza by 2.80 lengths while The Dazzler closed out the meeting with a sparkling win in Race 12, going off the 18-10 favourite.