Mike Moon: Punters’ eyes light up when they see the words Assessment Plate on a race card, but two such races on Tuesday’s programme at the Vaal Straight track look a bit more complicated than usual.
You cannot simply go for the top-rated horses as confident banker bets because younger, progressive runners demand consideration.
Heading the merit ratings in Race 4 is trainer Mike de Kock’s Australian-bred gelding Raasmaal, on a perch of 91.
This son of Snitzel has talent but is returning to the racecourse after 350 days off and will probably need a run or two to get back into the swing of things.
Next in the hierarchy is filly San Fermin on a mark of 90.
Astute father and son training team Mike and Adam Azzie have considered this four-year-old good enough to pitch into feature races – where she has not disgraced herself by any means.
This well-bred Australian import took a six-month holiday last year and her last two comeback runs have been in assessment plates, in which she has shown a steady return to fitness. She is likely to be in prime nick for this 1200m straight sprint.
However, San Fermin is a filly up against up-and-coming colts and geldings, so punters have to go wider in their betting calculations.
One of the challengers is Sean Tarry-trained Against The Grain, who has a 0.5kg weight advantage over San Fermin.
This colt shows every sign of becoming a useful sprinter – particularly if he can cure tardiness at the jump. His last appearance was in the Secretariat Stakes and he finished fifth, less than two lengths behind winner Cordillera after shifting ground in the finish.
If Against The Grain gets away on terms and runs straight under champion jockey Lyle Hewitson, he might well take the main prize.
The Azzies have back-up in the form of Whitehaven, a three-year-old with a similar profile to Tarry’s charge – but carrying 0.5kg less.
Whitehaven is having his second run after being gelded and that shock to the system, coupled with a blinkers strike, might get this son of Var more focused on winning.
Race 7 is the other assessment plate on the day, this time exclusively for fillies and mares and down the Vaal’s 1600m straight.
The ranking runner is four-year-old Silver Thursday on 92 – a full 11 MR points down since March last year when she was a close second to Takingthepeace in the Gauteng Fillies Guineas. By that measure, she should be ready to break her win-drought of 451 days. Since that last success, she has been competing in feature events – another important form pointer.
However, on the negative side, Silver Thursday has performed less than inspiringly in three recent outings after a six-month break.
Ranged against her are a couple of smart-looking three-year-olds.
Blossom, trained by Ormond Ferraris and ridden by Gavin Lerena, is a daughter of Triple Tiara champion Cherry On The Top – who also raced from the Ferraris barns. Blossom’s second-start victory in her last outing reminded pundits of her mother and if she can reproduce that run, she will win this.
She carries a full 3kg less than Silver Thursday – but so does Peter-trained Algebra, who won her maiden by no less than 11.75 lengths and cannot be ignored.
Flying Fable, with two wins from five starts, is another promising contender, but has to lug 1kg more than Silver Thursday.