This week 15 years ago two great horses were set to have a final showdown in the Met, a race which was likely to determine which one of the pair would go down in history as the better.
The legendary Mike Bass-trained Pocket Power was at the time a six-time Gr 1-winning six-year-old and five of them had been in Cape Town i.e. three L’Ormarins Queen’s Plates and two Mets. The Zandvliet Stud-bred Jet Master gelding’s sole Gr 1 win outside of Cape Town had been a dead-heat in the Durban July with the Justin Snaith-trained superstar filly Dancer’s Daughter.
And the two July dead-heaters were now set to clash in the Met and resolve an ongoing debate between their respective supporters.
Dancer’s Daughter was a grey British-bred by little known sire Act One (the latter ultimately became a national hunt jumps stallion). Her legacy lives on in SA today because the dam of multiple Gr 1-winning Drakenstein Stud homebred Rain In Holland, and her useful siblings, is a half-sister to Dancer’s Daughter.
Dancer’s Daughter was a year younger than Pocket Power, but was in reality a year-and-a-half younger as she was born to Northern Hemispehere time.
Nevertheless, she was already a four-time Gr 1-winning five-year-old at the time of the 2009 Met, having done the Paddock Stakes Majorca Stakes double, then won the weight for age Gold Challenge over 1600m at Clairwood before her dead-heat with Pocket Power in the July.
Her Gold Challenge win was astonishing because she pulled the whole way under Weichong Marwing and still won. Among the defeated was Pocket Power, whose race did not pan out well, and he was beaten 1,50 lengths into fourth.
Many pundits believed Dancer’s Daughter would not stay the July trip after her pulling antics in the Gold Challenge.
However, Kevin Shea, known for his sublime hands, was called in and the filly settled beautifully towards the back and in one of the all time great Julys she caught Pocket Power, who had come from midfield.
The pair went to the line as one.
The dead-heat verdict was well received by all and sundry.
Pocket Power carried topweight of 58kg in the July and gave Dancer’s Daughter 5kg, which shows how good he was.
However, he was never quite as good in Durban as he was in Cape Town.
Bernard Fayd’Herbe stated around the time of the 2009 Met that he felt Pocket Power had only been at about 80% of his true ability in Durban in 2008.
Subsequent to the July the pair met in the Gr 1 Champions Cup over 1800m at Clairwood, which was not a weight for age race back then and both had wide draws. Pocket Power, carrying topweight, was beaten half-a-length by the Sean Tarry-trained Buy And Sell, while Dancer’s Daughter, receiving 1,5kg from Pocket Power, finished 0,85 lengths behind him in fourth.
So in their three clashes the score was one victory each and one tie.
Pocket Power of course had given weight to Dancer’s Daughter in the July, but on the other hand Dancer’s Daughter had won the only weight for age clash between the pair.
The Met was going to be the race that separated them.
The one dampener to the Met was that on the day Pocket Power won his third L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate in succession, Dancer’s Daughter suffered a shock defeat at odds of 3/10 in the defence of her Paddock Stakes crown.
The winner was the Geoff Woodruff-trained Emblem Of Liberty (National Emblem). Pocket Power’s full sister and stablemate River Jetez, who was to win the Met just over a year late, was second. Dancer’s Daughter was only 0,6 lengths behind the winner in third.
Justin Snaith explained away the defeat, saying she had still been a little on the heavy side for the Paddock Stakes as the Met was her mission and he pointed out that after being hampered just before entering the straight she had recorded the fastest 400m to finish time of all the Gr 1 runners on the day.
Snaith was happy with Dancer’s Daughter’s Met draw of 13.
“The thirteen draw has been very lucky for her,” he said.
Kevin Shea was to arrive the day before the race.
“He knows her now and was the only one who managed to get her settled last season,” said Snaith. “But she has quietened down and settling is no longer an issue.”
Candice Robinson, daughter and assistant to Mike Bass, did not have any defeats to explain away.
The only concern for Pocket Power fans was his infamous foot.
He had not been bothered at all by it throughout this season until pulling up a little “foot-sore” after the Diadem Stakes.
However he went onto win the Queens Plate with ease and Robinson said on the Saturday before the Met, “He is nice and sound and in very good shape”.
On the Monday morning before the Met Pocket Power put up a scintillating sand gallop over 1400m at Milnerton in his final serious workout before the R2,5million event.
Dancer’s Daughter did pacework over 800m on the heavy sand at Phillipi training centre on the Tuesday.
Ironically she was ridden by Pocket Power’s jockey Bernard Fayd’herbe, a good friend of Justin Snaith’s. Bernard had also worked her before the July, being just about the only jockey who could stop her when she was in a galloping mood.
Fayd’herbe reported to trainer Snaith after the Phillipi gallop that she “felt very good”.
Snaith said that she was now “spot on”.
He said the yard had worked her harder than any other horse going into Met day.
“She needed to do that work and she has finally lost the weight she was carrying. When I see how fit she is now and how much work she can take I now realise that she was only half-fit for her run in the Paddock Stakes.”
And so the big day dawned.
Pocket Power, drawn nine, started at 12/10 and Dancer’s Daughter 28/10.
The race was not weight for age back then and Pocket Power had to carry topweight of 58kg but he faced Dancer’s Daughter on weight for age terms because all she was getting from him was her gender allowance of 2,5kg.
So it was going to be a true test.
The race lived up to its billing as “the race of the decade” as the two champions and adversaries were locked in combat as they drove to the line.
In truth Pocket Power never looked like being beaten after he had swept past Dancer’s Daughter half-way down the straight, but a combination of his tendency to loaf in front and the incredible courage of the grey mare saw her closing to within 0,25 lengths at the line.
The magnificent bay wrote himself into the record books as the first horse to ever win the famous Kenilworth 2000m race three years in succession.
Mike Bass had once again worked wonders with the Jet Master gelding, who had had a foot problem throughout his career.
That Summer he had probably never had him better.
During the week the Bass yard had received good luck emails from around the world and some of those close to the mighty Pocket Power had felt the pressure of expectation.
However, the seemingly unflappable Mike Bass was not one of them, and he left the tactics of the race to his trusted jockey, Bernard Fayd’herbe.
Fayd’herbe had been supremely confident before the race and didn’t disappoint. He rode a fine race.
Pocket Power was more handy than usual but Fayd’herbe eased him back in the back straight when he saw Dancer’s Daughter alongside and took a tow from her, knowing she was the one to beat.
The “flat spot” Pocket Power had been known to hit in the past was not evident, a sign that he had been sounder that season than in the past.
He exploded into action when asked the question, leaving the field flat-footed as he swept to the front over 300m out.
He went a length and a tail clear of the brave Justin Snaith-trained mare … but then his usual laziness set in.
Fayd’herbe knew the mare would come back at him, and she did, putting on a marvellous display of a champion thoroughbred’s will to win.
However, she couldn’t quite get there and the score had been settled – Pocket Power had proved himself the better horse.
Pocket Power’s full sister, River Jetez, ran a fine race to finish just a length behind her big brother in third.
Kapil finished a further 2,5 lengths back in fourth, while a big outsider, Golden Dice, was 3,25 lengths further back in fifth.
Pocket Power was owned by Marsh Shirtliff and Arthur and Rina Webber.
The race had illustrated how impossible it was to compare Pocket Power to Met winners of the past.
In his first two Met wins his arrival at the front had come almost lazily, but on this occasion he had to lift himself and that was testimony to the class of Dancer’s Daughter.
But when Pocket Power was at his best, which he always was at Kenilworth, he did just enough to win.
If you had lumped more weight on him, he would probably have done the same.
Gold Circle in a fine gesture allowed Pocket Power’s connections to keep the floating trophy in perpetuity in recognition of his three successive Met wins.
Pocket Power went on to win two more Gr 1s.
He finally won the Gr 1 that had eluded him, the Gold Challenge over 1600m at Clairwood, a race which had given Mike Bass one of his hardest defeats to ever accept in 2007 … Pocket Power had clearly been the best horse in that race but was hampered twice in the straight before delivering and extraordinary finish from an impossible position to lose by a short-head.
In January 2010 he made it four L’Ormarins Queen’s Plates in succession, but was beaten a length into third by River Jetez in his attempt at a fourth Met.
In 2011 he was fourth when attempting to equal a world record number of wins of the same Gr 1 in the Queen’s Plate and he was 8th in the Met in his career final appearance.
Dancer’s Daughter only had one more runs after the 2009 Met, winning the Gr 1 Empress Club Stakes at Turffontein about a month later.
At stud she produced six runners and four winners including Listed-winning gelding Born To Perform (Silvano) and Listed-placed filly Step Lively (Pathfork).