Mike Moon (The Citizen)
The Drill Hall Stakes at Greyville tomorrow officially launches KwaZulu-Natal’s winter season – nowadays officially called the Champions Season and making it indistinguishable from all the other Champions Whatevers.
Thankfully it’s still the Drill Hall Stakes, a time-honoured 1400m Grade 2 race named after the elegant military building in the old racecourse’s infield. This great event has produced some, um, champions down the years – not to mention a few Durban July winners a few weeks along. That could well be the case on Saturday when a fabulous line-up goes to post.
Jumping off the page are dual L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate victor Jet Dark, one of champion trainer Justin Snaith’s dozen July entries, and Linebacker, winner of the KZN Guineas on this day last year before going on to finish second in the July and third in the Cape Town Met for Vaughan Marshall.
You’d expect these two stars to be at cramped odds for almost any race imaginable, but there are three factors at play that might stop that happening: They’ve both had a three-month break from racing and will be ring-rusty, they’re both drawn in downtown Durban – a key factor for the extended sprint at Greyville – and they face uncommonly good opposition.
High-riding Joburg trainer Paul Peter is in town with the best-drawn two horses – 1 and 2, Captain Fontane and Smorgasbord. Peter is red-hot and unignorable, having saddled four winners at last weekend’s Champions Day (that word again!) at Turffontein, including two Grade 1 victors.
Captain Fontane returns to his happy hunting ground in the Last Post, where he racked up four wins before sojourning in Cape Town and losing his way. Smorgasbord might be one of the most underrated three-year-olds in the country and it’s interesting to see him in this race rather than the Guineas an hour or so later – does Peter reckon he needs a tougher test than he’ll get against his contemporaries?
Another Marshall runner, Seeking The Stars, is also a major force to ponder, though, at gate No 10, he is also a tad wide into the long turn at the foot of the Berea.
Perhaps the third Marshall candidate, Silver Operator, is the quiet stable choice. There’s a sense that this athletic fellow has under-achieved thus far; but he’s in good form and this is an ideal opportunity for him to grab some limelight.
Other winter season luminaries must be in the reckoning, too, even though they won’t be fully wound up at this stage. One thinks of the likes of Russian Rock, a Cape Guineas winner who is highly thought of by his trainer, Dean Kannemeyer.
Class will out, as they say in the classics, and there is an abundance of it in this vintage Drill Hall. Going the “field” route is not the worst idea for exotic bets.
Race 4, Drill Hall Stakes:
7 Silver Operator, 2 Smorgasbord, 10 Seeking The Stars, 1 Captain Fontane
Picture: Silver Operator has been selected by Mike Moon to win the Grade 2 IOS Drill Hall Stakes tomorrow (Wayne Marks).