IT was heart-warming to see that nobody enjoyed Turffontein’s ‘Day Of The Underdog’, Saturday more than the guest of honour herself.
After the running of the Gr1 HSH Princess Charlene Empress Club Stakes the Benoni-born, Monaco-based royal shook her head in agreement when Larry Wainstein referred to her as someone who ‘loves to see the underdog winning’. Moments later, she humbly dipped a knee in front of every trophy recipient, gave each one a serene hug and lifted their arms with her own.
Unassuming and emotional, the Princess then confirmed the fun she had “under the African Sky” where outsiders “smoked the others away”!
Indeed, with the retiring superstar Winx starting the day on a tearful note with a fairytale ending to her career on the other side of the world, and the emotions running high for several ‘small’ players at Turffontein, this was a day one can consider good for horse racing, all round.
This, despite horseplayers getting the wrong end of the stick. “We’re punters, we’ll soldier on until we die!” remarked an in-form Alistair Cohen in wry reference to the last winner, presenting the day’s races from the Tellytrack studio.
There would have been several racegoers at the track on Saturday who were also present on a miserable, rainy day in November 1980 when officials tentatively allowed the races to proceed and Ricky Howard-Ginsberg’s Bold Cherry fought doggedly in the mud to defeat Smuggler’s Den in the R150,000 Gr1 Holiday Inns.
The young rider who returned to the winner’s box splattered with mud but smiling from ear-to-ear was Robbie Hill, recording the first major win of his career on a filly that wasn’t considered to enough to beat the colts but did so anyway.
Punters and fans nick-named Robbie “The Prince” not long after that and, it was fitting that Hill, who doesn’t seem to have aged a day, won the Empress Club Stakes on the Princess’ Day as a trainer, and again with a rank outsider.
Hill’s filly Camphoratus, ridden by the talented, but so far below-the-radar jockey Gareth Wright for a bunch of ‘small’ owners, provided all (except part-owner Gerald Sadlier), with their first Gr1 success. It was a first and rare big-race success too for her sire Byword, the Paintre Celebre stallion who was imported by Middlefield Stud and later sold on to Mauritzfontein.
Hill has been hanging around Johannesburg a few months now, waiting for the big strike with Camphoratus. She had two decent prep runs in the run-up to the race and he suggested in an interview recently that there wasn’t much to do with only two raiding horses in Johannesburg but that he was sticking around anyway. Not many punters would have read between the lines, but good luck to Robbie and son Shannon, hard workers who will also be ‘soldiering on’ when others have cried enough.
The race, expected to be a royal gift for star filly Oh Susanna, changed shape a few times and had the crowd on their feet.
Redberry Lane brought them into the home straight with Running Brave, Oh Susanna and Nafaayes in tow and Camphoratus among the backmarkers.
Oh Susanna made a brief forward move coming into the last 500m, but she became one-paced, just naturally in need of the run in a power field. Jockey Marco van Rensburg, sensing he had an unexpected winning chance, let Running Brave go, and Paul Matchett’s cracking filly went hammer-and-tongs, running strongly and looking the likely winner with as little as 100m to go. But Wright had timed his run on Camphorus to perfection. They flashed up alongside the running rail and pipped the free-striding three-year-old in the shadow of the post for a remarkable success.
Nafaayes held third ahead of Oh Susanna, who will improve in leaps and bounds with this run and will be factor in KZN this season.
“I had a good feeling about today,” said Wright, who was wiping away tears from the moment he returned to the winner’s enclosure to the post-race interview, in which he thanked the Hills for keeping him on the filly.
“I saved Camphoratus for a run. We had a passage near the rail. When I asked her she picked them off one by one and I could see Oh Susanna on my inside. I’m so glad we won. Camphorus has got a gutsy heart, she tried hard!”
Hill said he had told his owners that Camphorus would run in the first three, her work had been excellent. He, in turn, thanked Geoff Woodruff’s yard for accommodating him at Randjesfontein.
Bred by Byword’s original owners Rob and Michelle Pickering at Middlefield Stud, Camphoratus was purchased for only R50 000 by Hill Racing off the 2016 KZN Sibaya Yearling Sale. She is out of an unraced US bred Horse Chestnut mare, Wild Camphor.
Camphoratus has won 5 races with 6 places from 18 starts for stakes of R1 100 575.