South Africa: Champions Cup Day Preview

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July 29th, 2022

South Africa’s racing season winds up with Champions Cup Day at Greyville in Durban on Saturday. It features four Group 1 races, three Group 2 contests, one Group 3, and a Listed stakes race.

With honors seemingly shared in several divisions, the results could determine several championship titles. Here’s a look at the Group 1 contests.

Race 4, 8:15 a.m. ET: Thekwini Stakes (G1), 1,600 meters (about 1 mile), 2-year-old fillies

The second of two Group 1 races for juvenile fillies on the South African calendar, and the only one at a mile. Several principals from the other Group 1, the six-furlong Allan Robertson at Scottsville June 4, are not running, but one that is showing up is fifth-placed #14 Ameena. She backed up that effort by winning the most important lead-up, the seven-furlong Golden Slipper (G2) at Greyville July 2. She came from well back that day and looks like a tough prospect to beat here. The two she beat, #12 Woodland Retreat and #3 Time Fo Orchids, should run well again.

The other main lead-up, the Bloodstock South Africa Sales Cup for fillies, was won by Feather Boa, who won’t be here, but the four horses that were behind her will be: #1 Canadian Summer, #13 Kill Shot, #4 Butterfly Beauty, and #6 Miss Daisy. Canadian Summer has been one of the better juvenile fillies and should be prominent. Keep an eye also on #2 Hold My Hand, an impressive winner over older horses at her second start June 11.

Of the horses that haven’t been at Greyville this month, #8 None Other looks the best.

Race 5, 8:50 a.m. ET: Premiers Champion Stakes (G1), 1,600 meters (about 1 mile), 2-year-olds

The main guide to the most important South African race for two-year-old colts and geldings looks to be the Golden Horseshoe (G2) July 2. #9 Cousin Casey showed a sparkling turn of foot to take the race here, and though #2 Royal Victory made up good ground late, the winner looked to have more in hand if needed. He will be very tough to beat.

#4 Prophet and #5 Laguna Verde, third and fourth in that race, will have their supporters here, as will seventh-place finisher Countdown, who returned two weeks later to win a lead-up. Also worth watching are the first two from the Bloodstock South Africa Sales Cup for males, #8 Mover And Shaker and #7 Now I Got You.

The most notable of the newcomers is #1 Quantum Theory, a decisive winner last start at Turffontein July 9.

  • $10 win/$20 place: #9 Cousin Casey

Race 6, 9:30 a.m. ET: Mercury Sprint (G1), 1,200 meters (about 6 furlongs), 3-year-olds and up

South Africa’s four Group 1 sprints so far this season have been won by four different horses, so this will decide the champion sprinter. This is the only elite sprint in the country around a bend, making draws much more important.

Champion mare #3 Captain’s Ransom, a winner of 11 races from 14 starts and a horse who is effective at distances from six furlongs to 1 1/4 miles, would likely have been favorite but for a disappointing fourth in the one-mile Garden Province (G1) July 2; it was her second top-level defeat at Greyville and her trainer Justin Snaith says there is a good chance she won’t run.

Even if she doesn’t start, there is plenty of quality in the race. The other Group 1 sprint winners are all present: #13 Bohica (Cape Flying Championship), #8 Master Archie (Computaform Sprint), and #5 Alesian Chief (Golden Horse Sprint).

Alesian Chief has the best draw of the trio, while Master Archie did at least get some experience on the track in the Durban Dash, won by #10 William Robertson.

However, given the unusual challenge of the turning Greyville track, it’s quite possible none of them will get the victory. The key prep race may turn out to be the Post Merchants Stakes (G2) at Greyville July 2, in which #1 Val d’Orcia narrowly held out #7 Good Traveller, with William Robertson further behind.

Val d’Orcia had previously run two very good races at Turffontein, and from the ace draw he should be a great chance.

Calculating who will come out best is a tough task, but I’m going to back Val d’Orcia to make good use of his draw and come out on top.

  • $10 win/$20 place: #1 Val d’Orcia

Race 8, 10:50 a.m. ET: Champions Cup (G1), 1,800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles), 3-year-olds and up

There’s a degree to which this is a consolation race for the 1 3/8-mile Durban July, South Africa’s richest race that is run at the beginning of the month. However, given that it’s held at weight-for-age rather than the handicap conditions under which the July is held, it will play a part in deciding the South African middle distance honors, and perhaps even Horse of the Year.

Though the winner of the July, the mare Sparkling Water, is not among those running, the field does include five horses backing up from the big race: #5 Jet Dark (second in the July), #4 Kommetdieding (fifth), #2 Astrix (seventh), #6 Al Muthana (eighth), and #8 Linebacker (14th).

Jet Dark is arguably the most talented horse in the race, and he did very well to take second in the July given how far back he was in running. He has been known to mix his form, but he should appreciate the smaller field size and deliver a swift final sprint at the end of the race.

Kommetdieding will be dangerous again, while Al Muthana has been best up to a mile and should appreciate this trip more than he did the July. The latter had earlier beaten Linebacker and Jet Dark in the Gold Challenge (G1) at Greyville June 11, with three other Champions Cup runners that didn’t contest the July — #7 MK’s Pride, #1 Russian Rock, and #3 Crown Towers — finishing fourth, fifth, and 11th, respectively.

I’m going to predict Jet Dark gets the money here, with Al Muthana much closer than in the July and Kommetdieding close by.

  • $10 win/$30 place: #5 Jet Dark