Jack Milner: Only six horses are carded to go to post for Race 5 at the Vaal on Thursday, a Pinnacle Stakes over 2400m, but this is one occasion when the best handicapped horses are not the obvious selections.
At the bottom of the weights is Sean Tarry-trained Wonderous Climber, who is turning into a very useful stayer. Of the six runners, this four-year-old son of Dynasty is only the fourth best-handicapped horse but, with 51.5kg on his back, is likely to start as the race favourite.
Of course, based on average merit ratings, this is a jump in class for the gelding but he looks up to the task and once again should be considered a banker in at least the BiPot and Place Accumulator. Lyle Hewitson, who will shortly be coming out of his apprenticeship, takes the ride.
The main danger is likely to come from Tirzan, who is the fifth best-handicapped runner. While he has yet to win over the distance it has only been in his last two races that trainer Joe Soma has raced this five-year-old gelding beyond 2000m.
He finished a 7.35-length third behind Ali Bon Dubai over 2400m and then a 5.80-length third to Walter Smoothie over 3200m after making the pace for most pf the journey.
Those races were both at Turffontein but, even more importantly, they were both features. The first was the Listed Java Handicap and the second the Listed Racing Association Handicap. This is quite a drop in class for Soma’s charge and one can expect a decent run, especially with S’manga Khumalo up.
The runner who is at the top of the best-weighted column is Sunshine Silk. This four-year-old daughter of Silvano is a course-and-distance winner when claiming victory in a FM 76 Handicap in May last year. She must have winning credentials but the major concern is that all of her wins have come against her own sex.
Geoff Woodruff’s charge did run against the boys in a Middle Stakes in April last year but was beaten 3.25 lengths by stable companion Ali Bon Dubai. She comes into this race with a handy weight of 52kg but has to give 0.5kg to Wonderous Climber, who looks to be better than his merit rating suggests. Chase Maujean takes the ride.
Race 7 is an Assessment Plate and the scratching of Ilha Da Varlette should make Dancing Queen the runner they have to beat. Dancing Queen has not raced since August and could be in need of the run, but Gavin Lerena has taken the ride and he has a knack of picking the rides when they are ripe.