THE knives were quickly out when Hat Puntano (ARG) failed in his first South African start over 1450m at Turffontein in September, but all is well that ends well.
Trainers Mike and son Adam Azzie slapped pairs of ear muffs on and withdrew to the drawing board when a number of armchair critics stopped just short of condemning the stable for what was deemed a failed purchase.
The Azzie’s addressed Hat Puntano’s known and, in time, unknown niggles to bring him back six weeks later for a decisive victory in the Gr2 Peermont Emperors Palace Charity Mile over 1600m at the city track, running on well for jockey Grant van Niekerk.
Lack of race fitness, interference and a spread shoe contributed to Hat Puntano’s disappointing local debut and Azzie urged punters to “draw a line trough the run”.
Hat Puntano had shown natural improvement in the weeks immediately after his failure but he wasn’t running straight, hanging in his exercise work despite measures being taken to straighten him in running.
Mike Azzie told: “When I visited Summerhill Stud for the sale in October someone recommended I call ‘Bomber’ Nel, the horse bit expert. I explained Hat Puntano’s problem and invited Bomber to visit my stable for two days.
“We looked at his mouth and at the bits we were using and made some adjustments, but nothing worked. Eventually Bomber suggested a new bit, which worked like a charm. Hat Puntano started running straight and the evidence of Bomber’s work is what you saw here today. Many thanks to him!”
Hat Puntano, a dual Gr1 winner in his native Argentina, was originally acquired by Robin Bruss and imported for owner Adriaan van Vuuren but was almost lost to the Azzie stable when the Van Vuuren saga started playing itself out late last year.
Azzie said: “He was going to be sold and I didn’t want to lose him, but Gaynor Rupert of Drakenstein Stud came to our help along with owners Jaime and Mariza Vilela. We are grateful for their support, for keeping the horse in our care.”
Azzie said that Hat Puntano will probably be aimed at the Gr1 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate next and that he’d return to the Highveld for a tilt at the Horse Chestnut Stakes. “We’ll discuss plans with Mrs Rupert.”
Hat Puntano is a son of Hat Trick (JPN) and Stormy Pursuer, by Sunday Silence. He was publicly represented by celebrity boxer Kevin Lerena, ran for the Animal Anti-Cruelty League and earned the welfare organization R150,000. It was the fourth time since 2008 that the Animal Anti-Cruelty League won the biggest portion of the R1-million stake given to the 16 participating charities in the race, and the second successive time that Lerena drew the right charity.
Photo: Hat Puntano (Grant van Niekerk, blue silks) wins the Gr2 Charity Mile.