Mike Moon (The Citizen)
Trainer Candice Bass-Robinson has a very clear battle plan for raiding the Highveld with runners from her Milnerton base in Cape Town.
The strategy has worked remarkably well for the stable over the years – and it did once more when appropriately named Trip Of Fortune grabbed the honours in the recent Grade 1 HF Oppenheimer Horse Chestnut Stakes at Turffontein.
Cape Town trainers are leery of bringing horses up the N1 to Joburg, understandably so, given the long journey and a precipitous climb in altitude.
‘Quality is essential’
But it can be successfully done, as Candice’s father, Mike Bass, proved in winning the Empress Club Stakes with Inara, the SA Classic with English Garden and the Computaform Sprint with What A Winter.
“Firstly, the horse has to be good enough to beat the Joburg runners; quality is essential,” explains Bass-Robinson.
“Secondly, you have to prepare them a little differently. You have to get them a bit fitter than when they race in Cape Town – to handle the new environment and high altitude.
“But, most importantly, they must travel well.” By which she means a relaxed, incident-free trip in a large horse float.
“If a horse gets stressed out on the trip, you’re dead and buried in terms of the race.”
The Bass tried and tested formula is to leave home on a Wednesday, make a stop of a few hours for a leg stretch and nourishment, before continuing on and arriving in Joburg on Thursday ahead of the Saturday engagement.
Two days at altitude is the golden mean before a race, the Bass team has calculated – enough time for the horse to recover from the journey, but not too long to allow thin air to start affecting breathing.
“It’s a very fine line,” says the personable conditioner.
Two travelling companions – assistant trainer and regular groom – were right beside Trip Of Fortune in his box for the 1,400km upcountry trek, catering to his every need.
“He travelled up so well, and he looked so well. He arrived at the course in perfect condition. Everything suited him; they didn’t go hard, but it didn’t bother him because he can sprint pretty well and quickened up nicely.”
Trip Of Fortune
Trip Of Fortune certainly did that, after jumping away slowly from the 1600m gates and losing two lengths to nine highly rated rivals.
Jockey Aldo Domeyer knows his charge well and didn’t panic, tucking in at the rear and letting the four-year-old stride along.
“He really enjoyed this race here and was well behaved, well within himself,” said Domeyer in his post-race interview. “He spat out the bit throughout and was just cantering.”
In the Turffontein straight, Trip Of Fortune cruised up to the leading bunch of MK’s Pride, Thunderstruck, Gimme A Shot and Under Your Spell, then surged clear to win by 1.25 lengths.
“From Day 1, this horse has shown us ability. It was just a matter of putting it all together,” said Domeyer.
“We suggested this would be a good race to pencil in because he’s got the ability and deserves a Grade 1; he’s put some good horses to bed.”
Bass-Robinson concurs: “I’ve always rated Trip Of Fortune very highly and believed he had a Grade 1 in him. I thought it would be the Cape Guineas when he was younger, but he had bad luck in that race.
“We gave him a long break and had him gelded. He came back and has now won a Grade 3, a Grade 2 and a Grade 1. He had a virus prior to his run in the King’s Plate and you can put a line through that. He had a good sprint in the Diadem Stakes and we discussed how the Horse Chestnut might be a good race for him, coming up here on the way to Durban for the KZN season.”
Trip Of Fortune’s next outing is likely to be in the Drill Hall Stakes at Greyville in early May. The Gold Challenge is next on the agenda, “and we’ll see after that”, says Bass-Robinson.
Trip Of Fortune might bump heads with his much-lauded young stable mate Charles Dickens in the Gold Challenge.
Bass-Robinson has ruled out a Durban July bid for Charles Dickens and is also not inclined to pitch Trip Of Fortune into the country’s top race. “I don’t know if he’ll get the trip.”