Mother Russia - J&B Met Contender
(Photo : Gold Circle)
R2,500,000 J&B MET (Grade 1)
Kenilworth, Turf, 2000m
29 January 2011
Matthew LipsMother Russia seems better than ever at the age of five and has a bright chance of making amends for last year’s near-miss when she tackles 16 rivals in the 2011 edition of the flagship J&B Met on Saturday. Not surprisingly, Mother Russia is a warm ante-post favourite to land this much cherished prize and there is plenty of reason to believe that Mike de Kock’s mare will have bookies licking their wounds after the Kenilworth 2000m showdown, writes Matthew Lips in South Africa’s leading horseracing and breeding newspaper, the Sporting Post.
The recent L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate Grade 1 was one of the most eagerly awaited showdowns of recent years, but Mother Russia turned the 1600m contest into a one-horse race when she hit the front full of running a long way from home and kept on firing to beat Tales Of Bravery by 2.25 lengths. Some may argue that 2000m stretches her stamina pretty much to its limits, but she failed narrowly to win the Sansui Summer Cup Grade 1 over the testing Turffontein 2000m in November and she is weighted to easily reverse that form with her victorious stable companion Flirtation.
Mother Russia was made use of from a wide draw when going close behind faster finishing River Jetez in last year’s Met, and not only does she have a much kinder 8 draw this time but she will be partnered by Anton Marcus, who has never been beaten on the daughter of Windrush. Ironically perhaps, it was two members of her own gender that denied Mother Russia victory in two of 2010’s most valuable prizes, but she looks well poised to join the likes of River Jetez and Flirtation by defeating male rivals to win a “major” over 2000m.
TALES OF BRAVERY
Tales Of Bravery is facing Mother Russia on 2.5 kgs better terms for that 2.25 lengths beating in the Queen’s Plate and can certainly make his presence felt. It must be said that he was always chasing shadows on that occasion, but he was nevertheless running on stoutly and there is no real reason to suppose that Vaughan Marshall’s gelding won’t be distance suited. He drew clear easily when he won a Grade 3 against his own age over 1800m last May and the Kahal gelding looks to be a much better horse now than he was then. He is drawn wide at 16, which never helps, but deep draws are not the nightmare on the Kenilworth summer course that they can be at many other venues and jockey MJ Byleveld has more than 600m of back stretch to work with before reaching the turn. A big run from Tales Of Bravery is entirely possible.
RUN FOR IT
After much debate about which of several high class three-year-olds would contest the Met, only Run For It has taken the plunge. Justin Snaith’s colt receives between 8 and 5 kgs from his rivals and looks virtually certain to relish going this far for the first time. The Dynasty colt appeared to be a most unfortunate loser when he found plenty of trouble in a packed field before finishing strongly to be beaten a long head into third behind Lion In Winter in the Peninsula Handicap Grade 2 over 1800m earlier this month. It is still easy to pick holes in the form of that race as they all finished on top of each other and the winner came from stone last on the turn to gun them all down, but Run For It looks progressive and can at least reach the frame again. We probably haven’t seen the best of him yet, and he does have the young-at-heart Felix Coetzee in the irons.
Then there is Pocket Power, who may very well be making his final racecourse appearance at the end of a career which saw him win this race on an unprecedented three occasions between 2007 and 2009. He would be a massively popular winner, but how realistic is it really? He finished a more than respectable third when bidding for Met win number four twelve months ago, but it is asking plenty of the champ to succeed as an eight-year-old where he failed at seven. He was staying on all right when 4.25 lengths fourth behind Mother Russia in the Queen’s Plate, but it may be clutching at straws to say that the mile is now too sharp for him when he had already won the Queen’s Plate four times previously. It would be unwise to ignore Pocket Power’s chances, especially on the racecourse over which he has ruled for so long, but he has not been able to win a Grade 1 for more than a year and a place may be the most one’s head (if not one’s heart) can anticipate on Saturday.
Past Master is one of the most talked-about horses in Cape Town and he did encounter some trouble in running when he stayed on to finish 5.75 lengths sixth behind Mother Russia in the Queen’s Plate. He was the impressive winner of a Grade 2 event over 1200m in December, and he is clearly versatile as he can also boast a win in last season’s Selangor Cup Grade 2 over 1600m. Still, it would take a horse of rare talent and flexibility to win the 1200m Diadem and the 2000m Met in the same season. Past Master (who’s out of a mare who posted four wins, all over 1200m) has never gone further than a mile and there really can be no guarantee that he will see it out. He is another with a poor draw, but he remains something of an unknown quantity here. Others, though, do appeal as being more probable winners.
Bravura was laid for ten months because of injury after recording what was at the time his fifth win from as many starts in the Cape Derby Grade 1 over this course-and-distance a year ago. That represented a somewhat meteoric rise to fame by the son of Silvano, who’s only made his racecourse debut eleven weeks earlier. Joey Ramsden’s gelding has had two starts since his return and fared better in the more recent of them when staying on to finish less than one length third behind Cask in the Premier Trophy Grade 2 over 1800m in December. That still doesn’t look like Met-winning form, though, and Bravura will need to have come on considerably more since if he is to have the slightest chance of conceding 2 kgs to Mother Russia. Even the form of his Derby win probably wouldn’t be strong enough to allow him to do that and Bravura does appear to have a mountain to climb here.
Cask quickened well from near the tail of the field to win the Premier Trophy by half-a-length from Super Storm at level weights, but that form was put into some context when Super Storm later finished seven lengths behind Mother Russia in the Queen’s Plate. Cask himself subsequently finished only tenth behind Lion In Winter in the Peninsula Handicap, and although beaten just 2.25 lengths in a blanket finish there was precious little to suggest that he is a likely threat at this level.
LION IN WINTER
Lion In Winter was only supplemented for the Met at considerable expense after his Peninsula success, where he went further than 1600m for the first time and obviously relished it. He ran on well to win that 1800m event, but the form looks some way short of what will be required here, especially as he faces the luckless Run For It on 2 kgs worse terms for a difference of less than a neck.
Fort Vogue has not won a race since he captured last season’s Peninsula Handicap, although he did finish a sterling fourth in the Met of twelve months ago. He is 1 kg better off with Lion In Winter for a recent 1.65 lengths beating and he is weighted to reverse the 1.75 lengths beating he received from Cask when finishing fifth in the Premier Trophy, but that doesn’t look good enough and veteran jockey Karl Neisius will probably have to wait yet another year for the J&B Met success which has eluded him throughout his illustrious career.
Rudra was impressive when drawing clear to win a pinnacle plate by five lengths over 1450m on the Turffontein inner course a fortnight ago, but this is a completely different test for the former Summer Cup winner. He could not have won more easily, granted, but the runner-up was a 66/1 outsider who’d done next to nothing for ages, the going was much softer than it will be here, and Rudra faces stable companion Mother Russia on 1.5 kgs worse terms than when he finished 4.75 lengths behind her in the latest Summer Cup.
There really seems to be almost no way that Rudra can be expected to win the Met under 60 kgs and stable companion Flirtation may fare better than him even though the weights don’t give her too much hope of confirming Turffontein form with Mother Russia. Flirtation’s Summer Cup win was full of merit, for she was drawn wide and finished very strongly from a long way back to run Mother Russia out of it in the final stages. She was running on well also when beaten less than one length by the seemingly much-improved Emerald Cove on her Cape Town debut in the Paddock Stakes Grade 1 over 1800m recently - but it still takes a big stretch of the imagination to believe that Mother Russia won’t easily get the better of Flirtation on 4.5 kgs better terms than in the Summer Cup.
The “lunatic” horse of the race may be Paddy O’Reilly, who faces Bravura on 2 kgs better terms for a beating of 3.10 lengths in last year’s Cape Derby. That doesn’t exactly make Glen Kotzen’s gelding jump off the page as a likely winner, and if anything it casts some doubt on the strength of the 2010 Derby form, but Paddy was running on really well when beaten a head by Lion In Winter in the Peninsula last time out. That represented improvement on his unplaced effort behind Cask in the Premier Trophy and Paddy O’Reilly could just sneak into a minor place at big odds.
Last Regal is seldom far behind, but unplaced runs in both the Premier Trophy and Peninsula Handicap don’t amount to great recommendations and things have changed somewhat since Last Regal beat Tales Of Bravery into third place when winning the Winter Guineas Grade 3 last May.
Rushing Wind ran on strongly when 4.5 lengths fifth in the Queen’s Plate and has Piere Strydom up from the best draw. Mike Bass’ gelding seems to be effective over a very wide range of distances, but this will be his first tilt at 2000m and he will need to improve again to have any chance of winning.
IN WRITING (ARG)
In Writing was running on to be beaten just less than a length into fourth in the Peninsula Handicap, having earlier finished stoutly from well off the pace to be 1.25 lengths fourth in the Premier Trophy. He comes here in probably the best form of his life, but he is the lowest merit rated horse in the field and it would still come as more than a mild surprise if he proved to be seriously competitive.
Super Storm probably prefers this distance to the 1600m of the Queen’s Plate, but as already alluded to the fact that he would appear to be well held and he has the widest draw of all on top of it.
PE hopeful Celtic Fire seems much more effective up to 1600m and even then he could only weaken to finish about 7.5 lengths adrift in the Queen’s Plate. He is priced up at around 150/1 for a good reason.
Now that we have been through every horse in the field we need to address the sixty-four thousand dollar question - where is the pace going to come from? Answers, please, on the back of a postcard before Saturday afternoon. There is nothing here with any kind of history of consistent frontrunning, and the accent may be less on stamina than on the ability to race prominently and quicken.
Here, too, Mother Russia looks well favoured. She has raced in that fashion to very good effect on numerous occasions, and it isn’t hard to see everything falling into place for her on Saturday. Mother Russia ticks practically all of the right boxes, then, and is selected to win from Tales Of Bravery (who probably would also be suited to a slow-run race, although it could make his poor draw more problematic to overcome), and Run For It (who might want a hotter pace, but who has a very wily rider on board). For fourth we’ll go with the horse that we would really love to see bring the house down by winning it. You don’t really need to be reminded of who that is by name, do you?