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L'Ormarins Queen’s Plate Preview

Elite level racing is worth watching anywhere in the world and this week I'm excited to cover South African racing for the first time. The Queen's Plate is one of the premier races on the South African racing calendar and covering it for the blog is a former colleague of mine, Alan Moscrop. You can follow him via @alanmoscrop and his work on a collective blog with a few more of his countrymen, Goodforthegame.

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2012 L'Ormarins Queen’s Plate Preview

The 2012 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate takes place at Kenilworth on Saturday and has served up one of the strongest Queen’s Plate field seen in many years.

The month of January in the South African horseracing industry is all about the action taking place in the southern parts of the country, as Kenilworth plays host to succession of top class feature and graded horse racing action from now through to the J&B Met (which takes place just inside February). This weekend’s L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate is one the jewels in the racing crown and is a race steeped in history, having been won by some of the very best horses to grace local racetracks over the years.

Aside from the quality thoroughbred racing itself, punters and visitors to Kenilworth on Saturday will be treated to a host of other world-class entertainment and the usual elegance and focus on fashion that comes with such an occasion. It will be the place to be seen for many, but for the jockeys, trainers, owners and punters alike, the focus will without a shadow of doubt be all about what happens in the 100 or so seconds from when the starter sets the Queen’s Plate field on their way at 10 minutes to 5pm.

A collection of the very best middle distance horses line up to compete this year’s contest, which, as a weight for age race, ignores the merit rating each runner has, so we have 14 runners all shouldering the same mass (note the late scratching of Changingoftheguard on Tuesday has reduced the field from 15 to 14). Unlike 2012, when the two top 3 year olds, Variety Club and Gimmethegreenlight battled it out in a pulsating finish, there's none of the younger crop taking the challenge this season, nor are there any entries of the fairer sex. Last year’s runner-up Variety Club is back to try and take the title he so narrowly missed out on 12 months ago, and the Joey Ramsden trained colt is a warm favourite to take the honours on Saturday. He will need to be at his brilliant best however, as the field lining up is without question one the strongest for many running’s of this race.

The official draw took place last week and a kind starting stall can be quite crucial over the Kenilworth 1600m, especially with a field of this year’s size. As it turned out lady-luck was did not look kindly on a few of the horses most fancied in the betting market – and none fared worse than the afore mentioned Variety Club, who jumps from the widest position of all. The Brett Crawford trained Jackson, a beaten favourite in last season’s Durban July, was only marginally more fortunate than Variety Club in drawing gate 13, but bookmakers still make the classy son of Dynasty a clear second favourite to take the win. Of the others near the top few places on the betting boards, 2012 Durban July Pomodoro drew well with gate 7, meanwhile champion sprinter What A Winter will have his stamina put to the test when he tries the step up in trip to the mile, and the Mike Bass trained 5 year old will jump from gate 10.

The runners and riders therefore line up as follows:


LATEST BETTING

Bookmakers priced up for the race shortly after the official draw was made last week (Ed. - take note British racing, early declarations builds up interest and the ability to do the form properly!), and despite being drawn out in the sticks, champion miler Variety Club is a hot favourite for the race win. His form over this distance, and manner in which he's notched up a long succession of impressive wins since April last year, has bookies extremely wary of the brilliant Var colt, regardless of the poor draw, and he's generally available at a little over even money in most places.

The latest betting and generally best prices available is shown below (taken on Tuesday 08th Jan), it should be pointed out that prices will change as race day nears and punters start getting their bets down:

Variety Club @ 12/10
Jackson @ 7/2
Pomodoro @ 6/1
What A Winter @ 12/1
Run For It @ 16/1
Bravura @ 25/1
Slumdogmillionaire @ 25/1
Master Plan @ 40/1
Castlethorpe @ 40/1
Depardieu @ 40/1
Tribal Dance @ 66/1
Fabiani @ 80/1
Martial Eagle @ 80/1
Bulsara @ 80/1
Changingoftheguard - scratched

THE CONTENDERS

It makes perfect sense to start off with a view of the main contenders with the horse they've all got to beat, Variety Club. A winner of 11 of his 16 career starts, this superb son of Var has been blowing away all before him with relative ease the bulk of last season, and last tasted defeat in the Derby over a 2000m trip that is perhaps his maximum distance. However back on the mile he's had no peers so far, and only the combination of a fierce head-wind and a determined ride by Pierre Strydom on Gimmethegreenlight thwarted Variety Club from taking this race last year. His jockey Anton Marcus knows him better than anyone else, and if he uses his excellent speed out the gate to help Marcus get him across from that wide draw, he'll be in his favoured position at the front turning for home – and we've seen that situation play out race after race the last 8 months. As worthy a favourite as you could ever ask for, and if he wins here, the Ramsden stable could very well try their arm with him at the J&B Met later this month.

The J&B Met was always the main target for Jackson, but connections feel he's very much in with a shout of fighting out the finish on Saturday, and if Variety Club fluffs his lines, then Jackson could very well be the one who will be there to pounce. Make no mistake this is no prep run, Jackson is here to race for the win, but he'll need to produce something a notch up from his best over a trip that is just a touch sharp for his long-striding action. He's chased home Variety Club twice over the 1600m trip already, including his last run in the Green Point Stakes, when the son of Dynasty ran on strongly but too late to land a blow. In his favour this time is that he'll be as fit as he's been before compared to his previous 3 meetings against Variety Club, and although he's drawn poorly in stall 13, his off-the-pace running style suggests it won't be as big a handicap as might have been expected. A big runner despite the J&B Met being his number one feature race target.

To have the reigning Durban July champion in a Queen’s Plate is a real treat and Pomodoro leads the challenge of the few raiders from other provinces. A surprise 28/1 winner of the July where he won from an impossible draw of 20, the Sean Tarry-trained Jet Master colt has held that form superbly since then and is a big danger to the Cape based runners. He made his seasonal debut over a sprint distance, where he showed his versatility by producing a storming finish to take the win, albeit unexpectedly to many. His final run was a comfortable win over the Turffontein mile in soft underfoot conditions, and he was a late supplementary entry for the Queen’s Plate, with the 2000m trip of the J&B Met also his main target. But with wins now from 1160m to 2450m, and a hat-trick over the mile last season, connections clearly feel he's got the turn of foot to give Variety Club a really tough battle. He looks like he might prefer further as well as a bit of sting out of the ground, however with hot and dry conditions expected all week in the Cape Town area, I do have some concerns about his chances if the surface runs on the firmer side of good.

What A Winter = what a horse and what an interesting runner. The strapping son of Western Winter has been dominating the sprint races in the Cape for 3 seasons on the bounce, and the Mike Bass yard have been sounding bullish about his ability to mix it over the extended 1600m trip. There will be plenty doubters however, and he's not won beyond 1200m in two years, and a field with such a classy bunch of middle-distance sorts is hardly going to make that task any easier. But the stable feel they have him as well as they've had him before, and they'll be hoping he can show the same sort of stamina from his early career when won the Selangor Cup over the Kenilworth 1600m as a three year old. The draw of 10 leaves the stable a bit unsure on what tactics to employ and they would have loved to have been a good few places on the inside, and he'll be looking for a position just off the early pace as they turn for home as he attempts to catch out those more likely to stay the trip.

Justin Snaith sends out the five year old Run For It and despite not registering a win in over two years he's perhaps surprisingly as short at 14/1 in some places. His last run is probably the cause for the lower odds than some would have expected – a strong finishing second behind Beach Beauty, a top class mare who will be a force at the J&B Met later this month. Run For It has chased home Variety Club over 1600m before when runner up in a Grade 3 contest at Durbanville in 2011, and the blinkers have certainly helped with the improvement in his last 2 runs. However I'm really battling to make a case for him here and he looks held by those above him in the betting.

Gavin van Zyl sends down two runners to contest the Queen’s Plate and Slumdogmillionaire is his first choice, with the Strike Smartly colt getting the plum number one draw and is quoted at 25/1. A winner of a SA Classic as a three year old when he pipped Pomodoro by a nostril, he then had a long spell on the sidelines due to surgery to remove a bone chip on a fetlock. He was slowly bought back into training towards the latter part of 2012 and made his seasonal debut when staying on gamely for fourth over 1600m at Clairwood. It was a decent enough comeback run but he's another that has the Met as his number one target. The fitness concerns and the trip down to the Cape make him one who I feel the race just comes a week or 2 too early, and a minor placing at best is how I’d rate his chances.

Variety Club's trainer Joey Ramsden has a livewire outsider in his second runner, the talented Bravura, who at six years old still looks a game individual and will no doubt give 100% up the Kenilworth finishing straight. After a disappointing downfield finish in the Green Point Stakes behind his stablemate, he finished strongly from well off the pace for fourth behind Beach Beauty in the Premier Trophy, and his course record of 6 wins from 15 runs at the Cape track is one that deserves some respect. He's normally one who needs some luck in running and should be fit and well for Saturday's contest.

Greg Ennion teams up with the experienced Robbie Fradd when he sends out the Jet Master gelding Master Plan, who ran with credit his last two outings when third behind Variety Club in the Green Point and then third-best again behind Beach Beauty 3 weeks later. He's not quite shown the form that he had displayed when landing two decent graded feature races in the KZN Winter season, and as with a couple in this field, he might be suited to a slightly longer trip.

The second runner from the Mike Bass stable is the Australian-bred Castlethorpe, who on his best form would have a shout of running into the quartet and maybe even the trifecta. A winner of seven races from 1200m to 1600m from his 26 career starts, he's always been a slightly quirky sort who's best distance has sometimes been hard to establish. Last season he was excelling over the sprints after returning from a lay-off, and when stepped up to what would have been thought to be his optimum trip, he chased home Variety Club over the Clairwood 1600m, beating stablemate What A Winter in the process. A terrible run in the Durban July followed, and only in his most recent outing has he shown his zest for racing is still there, when flashing up behind What A Winter over the Kenilworth 1200m. He's one I'm struggling to assess as his in-and-out form lends to him being a lurker for placing at big odds, with top jockey Anthony Delpech making to the trip to take the ride.

Of the remaining runners, we’re starting to look at some who would have to show real turnaround in recent form to feature or at least produce career best performances. Depardieu has been smart over sprints and up to the 1400m, but his last run was well below par and this trip looks a stretch for his chances. Trainer Dean Kannemeyer is an astute trainer when it comes to getting his charges ready for the big races, but Depardieu is not one I expect to trouble the judge. Tribal Dance, from the Vaughan Marshall yard, is more a staying type and the Met will be his main target. I suspect he’ll be struggling to match the pace once they turn for home, and although he did win over 1800m in his penultimate run, the field was weak-looking and the formlines have not looked strong since.

The field is rounded up by 3 older horses in Fabiani, Martial Eagle and Bulsara, who are all priced at 80/1 and could well be triple figures come the weekend. Fabiani finished an excellent 3rd in the Queen’s Plate back in 2010 behind Pocket Power, but was tailed off in last year’s race. He’s been thereabouts his last few runs and the 3rd place behind Hill Fifty Four on his penultimate start has had the formline franked with Hill Fifty Four winning last weekend’s feature race, The Penninsula Handicap. However his best years are past him and he looks to have far too much to find here. Martial Eagle has continued to climb up the merit rating table and seems to be getting better with age, with his strong finishing second behind Thunder Dance last time out over the course and distance a career-best effort - he looks the pick of the 80/1 shots. This leaves Bulsara, who represents the van Zyl yard and is the stable second-string to Slumdogmillionaire. He finished like a steam-train for second behind Silver Age in his prep run but his very best efforts have been when there’s been give in the ground, and conditions don’t seem to favour him causing an upset on Saturday.

SUMMARY & SELECTIONS

So we’ve looked at the runners and now it’s time to nail our bets for the race. Looking at the way the L'Ormarins Queen’s Plate has been priced up by local bookmakers it would suggest it’s a three-horse race, with Variety Club casting an imposing shadow at the top of the betting. Followers of our fortunes on Goodforthegame will know that 9 times out of 10 I will look to get a favourite beat, and as strong as the claims are for Variety Club to score another impressive win, I’m going to stick with my tactic that favourites are there to be beaten, and the vote goes to Jackson, who I hope will mow Variety Club down over the final 50 metres and take the win. The son of Dynasty is poorly drawn, not as poorly as Variety Club, however he will come from off the pace as usual and will be finishing faster than anything else in the field. The key is to ensure he’s not too far back from Marcus and the favourite turning for home, however Karis Teetan knows the four year old inside-out and should give Jackson every chance of turning the tables on Variety Club.

We’ve had a bit of a purple patch on Goodforthegame and booted home the winners in all three of the main female races that have taken place at Kenilworth in recent weeks. It’s therefore fair to say the Cape has been kind of late and my hope is that run can continue with a storming finish from Jackson late on Saturday afternoon. It’s a tough ask as he would then go onto challenge for the J&B Met later this month, where he is currently a warm favourite over a trip which will be more suited than this weekend. But he’s a top class individual and I’m hoping that quality sees him edge his rival Variety Club on Saturday. The boxed exacta is my back-up bet.

BET: Jackson to win at 7/2, boxed exacta Variety Club/Jackson

My outsider, far more speculative bet of the race is a small interest in a boxed trifecta of Variety Club, Jackson and What A Winter. It costs just R6 to take so can be taken multiple times and should pay a decent dividend if those 3 filled the places, regardless of what order.

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