JOE Soma has seen 59 summers, but the man his partner Sandy Wilson describes as “going on 40” prefers the word “seasoned” to “veteran” in description of his experience as a trainer and quipped on Sunday: “I’ve had a career full of salt and pepper!”
Soma recorded his sixth Gr1 success at Turffontein on Saturday when 36-1 chance Lobo’s Legend took the lion’s share of R2-million in the SA Classic over 1800m, the winning of which he puts down to lessons learnt many moons ago from his late father Gabi and late brother Gary.
Soma said that he was shocked, in fact “shattered” when Klawervlei-bred three-year-old Lobo’s Legend returned from Cape Town in March to finish unplaced behind Mrs O in the Gold Rush Sprint over 1100m.
“I expected him to win without fuss that day, to me it was impossible that he could run like this,” Soma said of Lobo’s Legend, who sauntered home by near nine lengths when winning his 1100m Maiden last December. “When Anton Marcus got off he said that the colt may need a bit further, perhaps 1400m to a mile, and that got me thinking. I studied the race and saw that he came off the bit early and was under some pressure all the way.
“Something my dad said years ago came across my mind. He and my brother Gary were old-school horsemen who subscribed to old-school principles and he often ventured, “When something is not working you have to try something else. If a horse loses his zest for sprinting, put him over further!”
Soma still regarded Lobo’s Legend as a sprinter, but he decided to try him in work on grass over 1450m and to use a “pick-up”, something his nephew and assistant trainer Gabi had never seen. “It’s another old-school method I haven’t employed in ages, but we let Lobo’s Legend gallop along from the 1450m to ‘pick up’ a decent horse at the 550m mark. He ran through well, finished alongside his capable stablemate.”
Soma looked for a 1400m race or a mile to test Lobo’s Legend in a race over further, finally found a Progress Plate over 1700m at the Vaal in which only six horses would compete. “The race was ideal, but as fate would have it, rain came down and the meeting was abandoned.”
With time running out to the Classic and his options limited, Soma got the new partnership of owners together and they decided to go big, or go home! “We were in a corner. There was a MR96 over a mile available for a stake of R120,000, but we decided that, if we were going to experiment, we’d rather do it in a R2-million race. From what I saw in his 1450m gallop, I knew that Lobo’s Legend wouldn’t be hurt and was unlikely to be disgraced.
“The way we saw it, Lobo’s Legend could use his pace and his box seat to get into a good position early. There were no standouts in the field over 1800m, it was all conjecture, so in theory we had a chance and we went for the jugular. It paid off!”
The team’s plan worked out to perfection and Lobo’s Legend employed his speed and draw for a handy position under the wily Muzi Yeni, who combined with Soma to win the 2011 Gr1 Champions Challenge on Happy Landing.
Lobo’s Legend stunned them all by keeping his position and running on strongly to win by 1,50-lengths from the gallant Surcharge, who was first off the bit and driven along after having to race around runners to overcome his own wide draw.
“Lobo’s Legend is by Trippi from a high quality mare who ran third in the Ladies Mile at Kenilworth. We can imagine now that 2000m is within his reach and a target that springs to mind next is the Gr1 Daily News 2000 during the KZN Champions Season.”
Soma said that he was in the process of cutting his number of horses in training, from 70 down to 36. Like several other trainers, he’d taken a knock after the departure from the scene of Mayfair Speculators and he commented: “In a way it was like getting back into the scrum, doing things differently again because the dynamics have changed. We’ve been looking for cheapies again instead of getting expensive horses given to us from every sale. But that’s the way it goes, we’ve steadied the ship and we’re moving full steam ahead with a staunch band of patrons on board. We’ve kept and syndicated 14 of Mayfair’s former runners, and I have just a few to put together still.
“I know a lot has been said about Markus Jooste, but I won’t join the negative band. His support and encouragement changed my training career when we were going nowhere and I will always be grateful to him.”
Soma thanked JJ van der Linden for putting together the Lobo’s Legend partnership consisting of Van der Linden himself, Larry Nestadt, Mark Currie and Jeff Shill.
“It is their out of the box thinking that has gotten us this far with Lobo’s Legend. In Europe this is what trainers do. They go into Gr1 races over a mile with unproven horses, then to the Derby over 2400m a month later. This was by no means my customary way of training but my patrons allowed me to experiment and, thankfully, we were all rewarded!”
Photo: Lobo’s Legend wins the SA Classic (JC Photos)