THERE was a quiet expectation that South Africa’s champion miler Legal Eagle would finally be toppled in Saturday’s Gr2 Green Point Stakes at Kenilworth. Rising eight, he is getting on and was lined up in what was dubbed the race of the year in the company of three hugely talented younger pretenders in Undercover Agent, Rainbow Bridge and Do It Again.

Indeed, as things unfolded, four-year-old Rainbow Bridge would have dethroned Legal Eagle if the race was a split of a split second longer. The fastest late finisher, Rainbow Bridge was almost half a length clear just a stride past the post. At the line, however, the photo showed that Sean Tarry’s seasoned superstar had prevailed by a short head from Undercover Agent, with another short head splitting Do It Again and Rainbow Bridge for third and fourth.

Supporters of the placed horses can argue that the early pace was muddling, that Anton Marcus swung the design in his favour by crawling along until Undercover Agent came to hasten the clip, but still sedately and allowing Legal Eagle to race on his terms.

One could also hold that if the race had a true hare, a runner that made a hot pace, Rainbow Bridge would almost certainly have won and Legal Eagle may even have finished out of the first three. His winning time of 98,92s was exactly two seconds slower than 96,92 clocked when he won the race in 2016 and fully 1,4s slower than last year.

Here’s the thing. All of that is conjecture, and actually irrelevant. If our auntie had a pair she would have been our uncle. The result of the Green Point Stakes is in the frame. 1-2-3-5. Legal Eagle won it by a short head and for now, that’s really all that matters. The old gelding schooled the youngsters in a show of command and bravery, and his old boy jock rode a terrific race.

Legal Eagle and connections, post-race.
Legal Eagle and connections, post-race.

“What a masterful ride by Anton Marcus,” enthused Sean Tarry after the race. “He’s an absolute champ, just like Legal Eagle. He rode him to perfection.”

A beaming Tarry admitted to suffering almost throughout the race and he noted: “I enjoyed his sprint last time. This was nerve wracking! It would have been nice if (the late) Chris Gerber’s horse (Rainbow Bridge) had won, but that’s racing. I’m glad we’ll be getting 2kg from Undercover Agent in the Queen’s Plate. That 2kg looked dangerous today.”

Marcus returned Tarry’s compliment, praising him for the stable’s fantastic achievements with Legal Eagle. He commented: “Legal Eagle is getting stronger, despite not getting better. He’s a special horse, you can set your clock to him.”

Marcus said he was privileged to be associated with the great miler and also to have ridden in a race of this billing with three other fantastic horses. “I was never certain of this one, even at the line,” he said.

Part-owner Braam van Huyssteen said: “What a race. I saw Rainbow Bridge flying up. I’m glad we’ve crossed the river, we’re on the other side of the bridge. Those who want to take on Rainbow Bridge in the Met had better think again!”

Next, however, is the Gr1 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate on 6 January and with the ‘Green Point Four’ all likely to compete again, we’re likely to see another match as thrilling as the one we awaited and enjoyed today. What will be the outcome then? Will there be a pace? Will it matter? Who knows, but we’ll be counting the days.

Legal Eagle, who races for Van Huyssteen, William Henderson and Hedley McGrath,  has won 15 of 26 starts with career earnings approaching R12-million. He’s an Avontuur-bred son of Grey’s Inn and Young Sensation and wow, he’s not done yet!

Headline photo: Spread across the track with a head between the first four: Legal Eagle (yellow silks, middle), hung on to win the Green Point Stakes from Undercover Agent (blue), Do It Again (obscured on far side) and a fast-=motoring Rainbow Bridge (nearest Wayne Marks’ camera).

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