LEADING owner Chris van Niekerk, chatting to friends at a Christmas party held in Johannesburg on Friday afternoon, told that on Saturday he was going to miss his first Sansui Summer Cup race day since entering the sport several years ago.
Van Niekerk had accepted an invitation to attend furniture mogul Bruno Steinhoff’s 80th birthday bash held in Stellenbosch on Saturday evening and wished all his colleagues and fellow-owners who were going to Turffontein the best of luck with their runners.
The cookie crumbed in an unexpected way. Saturday’s meeting was postponed to Sunday, Van Niekerk took a flight back after his brief sojourn to the Cape and arrived in time to lead in Liege (16-1), his first ever Gr1 Sansui Summer Cup winner owned in partnership with Markus Jooste.
Liege, a five-year-old gelding by Dynasty from Lyrical Linda, came into the race with form that generally belied his reputation. Strongly fancied in his warm-up run, the Victory Moon Stakes, he ran well below expectations in 10th behind Girl On The Run and trainer Sean Tarry was baffled.
He said: “I didn’t really know what to make of that performance. There was no obvious reason for it, so I put it down to a flat run and I’m glad I did, because we could have put Witchcraft in the Summer Cup ahead of Liege but we didn’t.”
The clue to Liege’s ability was to be found in his fourth place from a wide draw to Master Sabina in last year’s Summer Cup. He’d dropped 3 merit rating points and half a kilo a year later and had to be a serious runner if he produced his best form on the day. As the top trainers tend to do, Liege was delivered on the top of his game, at the right moment.
Tarry saddled the 2009 winner Aslan, said: “Liege has always been a promising horse. I trained his brother, called Lance, who was a very talented horse but needed to be gelded if he was to continue racing. We sent him to stud and his pedigree will now look stronger on paper.”
Tarry, who has had a somewhat frustrating season by his standards, added wryly: “You know, if one can’t be good all the time, you can be good at the right time!”
Jockey Raymond Danielson – “Stingray” to his friends – has also suffered an up-and-down year. In July, he was wrongfully detained by Mauritian authorities after he was seen on a boat with a bookmaker. He has had to regain his confidence after re-settling in South Africa in August.
The unassuming Danielson said: “I ignored Liege’s last run and preferred to look at the run before that when he ran close to Brazuca. He hasn’t felt in work like he felt today. He was cruising at the 400m mark and then he kicked again.
“I really like Liege as a horse, he is a true gentleman at the start and in a race and thanks to Mr Tarry and Mr Van Niekerk for the opportunity. I finished third in the 2015 Summer Cup on French Navy and I hope this makes up for it!”
Liege was raised at Maine Chance Farms and changed hands for R650,000 at the 2014 Lanzerac Ready To Run Sale.