Watch Love Struck winning the SA Classic (Grade 1)
(Photo : JC Photos - Footage : Tellytrack)
R2,000,000 SA CLASSIC (Grade 1)
Turffontein, Turf, 1800m
30 March 2013
A prominent racehorse trainer, disgruntled by a failure to heed his instructions, recently accused jockeys of being illiterate. One thing you cannot say about jockeys though, is that they’re innumerate: put two million bucks on the line, as Phumelela did on Saturday, and pandemonium reigns. There were all kinds of conjecture in the popular press about the prospects for Saturday’s SA Classic (Gr.1), and the fact it was a likely stepping stone for the Gauteng Guineas ace, Tellina, on his march to the Triple Crown. As matters turned out, his vanquisher on Saturday was Love Struck, a R260,000 Summerhill Sales graduate of a Classic generation that has already yielded four Group One performers off the farm.
At least one eminent scribe was puzzled at Love Struck’s participation in the Classic, on the basis of Anton Marcus’ defection to Gitiano for the day. Apparently the champion jockey had suggested, after Love Struck’s victory in the Politician Stakes at Kenilworth on L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate day, that 1800m might be the limit of his range. “Taking on the big boys in their own back yard over the trip might be stretching matters” the scribe claimed, and he may have had a point. We’ve always said the 800 metres of the Turffontein straight is the toughest four furlongs in the world, and getting there at the end of nine furlongs takes more than raw ability. It takes courage, honesty as well as “BMT”, and let’s not forget, a good dose of upbringing.
We have to confess though, that while we harboured hopes for all four of our runners, the press and Anton Marcus had us wondering about Love Struck and his stamina. His father, Kahal, versatile as his record suggests, has largely been an influence for speed, and neither his mother nor grandmother won beyond a mile. Yet somehow, on Saturday, Love Struck came grinding up the Turrfontein straight like the genuine brawler he is, raising two fingers at the pedigree theorists and how far a runner is supposed to stay. This is horseracing, not quantum mechanics.
In the Classic, we saw the raw soul of racing; two horses running for their lives, crashing through one pain barrier after another, wild and brave. The Classic field swings for home, fanning ever wider, centrifugal force in its crudest form, a blur of colour and bussles. Horses weaving and wobbling. Jockeys slashing and urging. Everywhere you look, acts of panic and derring-do. As near as a race can be to pandemonium. From being right out of it at 20-1, Love Struck is suddenly right in it.
Amid the pandemonium on the turn, Sean Cormack the veteran, sends the “Lover” for home. With that one decision, he wins the Classic. Trainers are forever telling jockeys to use their judgment, as though all hoops are born with a triple cross of Solomon. Jockeys then go out and use something that, whatever it is, isn’t judgment. Love Struck won the Classic because Cormack’s intuition was flawless. Joey Soma, standing in for his absent trainer, Paul Lafferty, timed the horse’s preparation to within a few hours. Cormack timed the horse’s run to within a few seconds. A punter who’d yelled unprintable abuse at Cormack in the race before, now hailed him “a champion”. A week may be a long time in politics, but thirty-five minutes is an eternity on a racecourse.
The return to scale made the running of the bulls in Pamplona, seem dull. The veteran journeyman was ecstatic, the owner euphoric. Spare a moment here, for the owner. Alesh Naidoo deserves everything he gets from the game. At the KZN Racing Awards last season, he was acknowledged as the province’s leading investor. The horse’s participation in the Classic was an act of faith. His trainer had doubts on the back of Anton Marcus’ reservations: who wouldn’t? Yet the owner insisted. Now he was clambering and clattering his way down the grandstand, his eyes a mystery behind his sunglasses, as he slipped into the winner’s circle, and called out to the jockey. The colt came across to him. The owner, who’d invested his faith, rubbed him and kissed him on the forehead. Emotions are alright, it seems, but only behind sunglasses.
And then there was the agony. The objection hooter sounded, and suddenly the owner slipped into that country all racing fans know, the twilight zone between hell and hope. On a racecourse, the line between fame and pain is ever so fine. Somewhere in the race, the Triple Crown pretender and the horse with so many doubts over his head, had come together at a critical time. It was now in the lap of the gods.
Depending on where you sit on the issue, it’s good to know there is a God; it helps to have the Almighty in the saddle. The objection was overruled.
Spare a thought now, for Love Struck’s trainer. Lafferty is a tease. These days, the one-time professional football star is more a comedian than a celebrity, a master of dry wit and dubious tales. Big on desire, but short on good horses. A contender and a crock living in the same body. On this, his biggest of days, he was in Dubai doing duty at the World Cup. Those nearby will tell you, too: emotions are alright, but better in private. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
Saturday was a big day at Turffontein, not quite as big as the World Cup in Dubai, but a big day nonetheless. The fans turned up in their droves to see Tellina and Cherry On The Top win their respective classics. In the end, Cherry On The Top won the Fillies Classic, but Love Struck won the hearts.