A THORNY ISSUE: Wide open race for Cup
CAN A locally owned horse win the Sandy Lane Gold Cup?
It’s the $214 000 question as we speed to Saturday’s big show and dance at the Garrison Savannah.
A year ago I was very emphatic in my proclamation that Just A Fashion was the best Bajan pick to win the gallop for gold. I was left to eat humble pie as the then local champion’s charge was destroyed even before the contending pack was jostling for position going back to the Drill Hall.
It was the estimation that he became damaged goods in the front-running battle against War Envoy. Since then, it was proven that he can be held up as still being a serious contender and even a winner.
Trouble is that he may only be able to do that among a certain class. Handling better horses is a very different story, especially going 1 800 metres. There is the belief the Victor Cheeseman-trained animal is best at 1 570 metres.
I want to state as emphatically as I did last year, that I’m still a huge Just A Fashion fan despite the taunts I have had to endure from those who rate him differently.
Notwithstanding that he had an impressive win on the Ansa McAl Race Day, I’m not prepared this time to wager house and land on him because we have to accept that the foreign entrants race against better opposition and could look to be world beaters when they come here.
Nekitta appears to be in with a shout, considering current form and the fact that she’s carrying 117 pounds, a 12-pound advantage from the older and some of the leading contenders, which are saddling 129 pounds.
After a lengthy layoff through injury, she has returned on a high note, winning on Boxing Day and taking the Coolmore. Her connections speak of her competitiveness, an attribute needed by winners, whether human or animal.
The only thing that could go against her is the so-called “Coolmore Curse”. There’s the superstition among race fans that you are doomed to Gold Cup failure once you win the Coolmore. There are only a handful of occasions when they have been wrong. I don’t believe in superstition and I think if Nekitta runs true to current form she can be in the shake-up for leading honours.
Luck is crucial in horse racing and generally, any number can play, but I see Daunting David’s best chance to conquer coming if there’s lots of give in the going.
Defending champion Dorsett was an unknown last year, but went on to upset the field. He hasn’t done a lot of racing since but I don’t believe the owners would enter him in a race of this magnitude if he wasn’t sound or if they didn’t fancy their chances of repeating or at least to be competitive. Respect is due plus there is extra value added with Jalon Samuel in the saddle. Samuel is a very talented reinsman who loves the big occasions.
Keystone For Victory seems to be Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s best bet, although High Noon Rider cannot be discounted. I indicated to the Ramseys last year that Shining Copper was their best hope of making them the first foreign owners with three straight wins in the Gold Cup, but they had different ideas, to their detriment.
I see their venture this year as one of revenge, so they would have been very picky in choosing the ones they believe can handle the tight track and their opponents.
The Trinidad attack is being led by the Canadian-bred Conquest Bespoke, which won twice at Woodbine and twice since going to Trinidad. He ran second in their Gold Cup, so he will give the field something to think about.
Trini Navigator won on grass this month, so the conditions will be favourable.
In essence, I think this is the most open Gold Cup we have had in years and that should add more spice and intrigue to the race. How about Knight Rider as a dark horse?
Actually, I believe Barbados’ best chance would have rested on Sirius Black, but his connections have opted for what appears to be a much more assured pay day by going in the Tanglewood, which is over 2 000 metres, and against animals of lesser pedigree than those entered in the Gold Cup.
Strategic planning for one’s benefit is all part of the sport of kings.
• Andi Thornhill is a veteran sports journalist. Email [email protected]