A THORNY ISSUE: Samuel a rising force
LAST YEAR’S Gold Cup Day, one of Jalon Samuel’s greatest fans caused a stir and hot debate when he said he believed the now three-time winner of the prestigious race was a better rider than icons like Chally Jones,Venice Richards and Patrick Husbands.
This was after the dust had settled on the proceedings and casual discussions began on the highs and lows of the event, which the former Lester Vaughan student won on the then unknown Dorsett.
You could well imagine how that provocative statement changed the tone of the discussion. The Jalon supporter was derided and mocked. He wasn’t deterred and argued even louder while sticking to his original point.
I don’t know if anything was repeated in relation to the subject after Saturday’s showpiece, but I won’t be surprised if the person felt vindicated following Samuel’s excellent craftsmanship to score back-to-back wins on the same horse.
My take on it last year was that it might be too soon to put him on the same plateau as the legends. If he sustains brilliance over a period of time, then bring all the comparisons, including the ability to rate a horse, judgement, timing, giving the charge all the benefit of your skills and style to a lesser extent.
I am not changing my tune, but we should admit he has every ounce of their confidence, competitiveness and the ability to deliver on the big day. I said in my previous column that Samuel brings added value to Dorsett since he has the aptitude for rising to the occasion when it matters most. He already has three Gold Cup triumphs from eight attempts.
Mind you, he’s still in his mid-20s, so if all goes well and he has a long career he will have the opportunity to add a lot more Gold Cup accolades to his growing collection.
I could also highlight his composure in light of his own admission during a post-race interview that he made an error during Saturday’s race, but was able to keep cool and bring Dorsett with that explosive run to catch High Noon Rider in the home stretch and win an epic duel against highly rated Rafael Hernandez, who, like Samuel, gave his charge everything he had in his armour.
A much respected member of the Grand Stand posse told me afterwards that if Hernandez had made his move a little later the result might have been different. It was the kind of conjecture that doesn’t change the result. The home stretch battle was one of the best finishes seen in a Gold Cup for years. Scenarios like these keep fans coming back for more.
Trainer Robert Peirce has the Midas touch in big races and, if we are fair, he’s starting to remind us of the late Garrison legend Bill Marshall, who was very strategic in preparing horses for classics. I thought Dorsett was handled in a similar fashion since last year’s Gold Cup.
Although there might have been interference at some stages, I believe it is true to say that all of the leading contenders had a decent chance to take the top prize or get on the tins. Thus, the connections of Keystone For Victory, who placed third, and local favourite Nekitta, fourth, should be contented with their day’s work.
In fact, shortly before the start, it was rumoured in a section of the Grand Stand that Nekitta was withdrawn because of lameness. This was dismissed as “wicked” by owner Lewin Godding and surely there was no evidence to support it, given the brave run by the filly, which became yet another victim of the “Coolmore Curse”, a reference to the belief that winners of the Coolmore find it hard to repeat in the Gold Cup.
The Trinidadian pair of Conquest Bespoke and Trini Navigator didn’t deliver the bounty their connections were hoping for, but their mere presence gave the spectacle a boost for the second year running. The Trinidadian input gives it an extra dimension in view of the aged rivalry between the two countries, especially in sporting endeavour.
We can recall the banter and the bragging rights back in the day when Bold Lewis won the first Gold Cup in 1982, Frisky Wharf in 1985, and Call To Account in 1988. There was a big Trini following which came over, so there was also a benefit to tourism.
I actually met a couple who said they came to Barbados, specifically for the Gold Cup, and they are hoping to be back for Crop Over.
I think props should also be given to the Barbados Turf Club for being excellent hosts, who, like true champion jockeys, know how to deliver on the big days.
The only missing link was that there was no local television coverage, although the state-owned station brought it on radio. You could speculate that TV coverage wasn’t possible because CBC is cash-strapped or there was little or no interest shown by the corporate sector in the race.
This would be significant because the Gold Cup has earned the right to be treated like a national event and all stakeholders should ensure it is shown “live” on national TV.
I would have been blue vex if I couldn’t see Jalon Samuel’s epic ride in real time.
• Andi Thornhill is a veteran sports journalist. Email [email protected]