POPULAR Sun Met winner Whisky Baron is set to embark on an overseas adventure. He has already checked in to the quarantine station at Kenilworth as a preliminary to a major international campaign under his trainer, Brett Crawford, reports MARK VAN DEVENTER.
In a notoriously fickle game where allegiances can switch suddenly, the Kieswetter family, who own Whisky Baron, have shown steadfast loyalty. Reins-man Greg Cheyne remains their retained jockey to ride Whisky Baron, wherever in the world he may go. The duo has forged a tight affinity – a perfect five wins from five starts.
It is also a wonderful international opportunity for Crawford, and a show of faith in his abilities that the family entrusts ultimate responsibility for Whisky Baron’s racing future abroad in their Cape Town based trainer, currently flying high in third spot on the National Log.
Whisky Baron’s precise racing itinerary is still to be finalised in collaboration between the Kieswetter family’s Ridgemont Stud – Crawford and Mike de Kock who is operating out of Dubai – but he is likely to travel to Mary Slack’s Abington Place in the UK via Mauritius, and then on to Dubai.
Interestingly Crawford’s former assistant trainer Jevan Awotar, a Mauritian National unable to return to South Africa due to hassles with his work permit, will be reunited with Whisky Baron on the island and is likely to travel on to the UK with him.
Whisky Baron will spend time in Dubai, though the Ridgemont Stud team do not see that as the main goal. Given onerous export protocols, planning thoroughbred movement is especially challenging coming from the tip of Africa – flexibility and resource-fullness is required. Depending on how things pan out, their long term vision is for Whisky Baron to compete in Hong Kong or Singapore in early 2018. The talented Crawford, already with 21 Grade 1 trophies to his name, and De Kock, a world renowned maestro, will orchestrate the logistics.
Whisky Baron has earned an international campaign by virtue of an impressive unbeaten sequence since being gelded in June 2016, culminating in a Grade 1 Sun Met victory over 2000m this January. He made smooth progress throughout the Summer, benefitting from Crawford’s sharp conditioning skills and canny strategic placement in suitable races. Resuming in October off a rating of 96, the bay was allocated 103 after successive Allowance romps, was then bumped up to 110 after another fluent score in the Peninsula Handicap, before attaining an official turf merit rating of 120 in the Met.
It’s possible that this career peak figure of 120 does not yet reflect his true ability. Four year-old Whisky Baron has only raced 13 times for six wins, so still has scope and upside potential. He is a sensible and tractable horse with a great temperament and the ability to quicken smartly – a positive attribute that nearly all superior turf performers possess.
All great sports are truly global. Unfortunately, domestic racing in SA can be closed and parochial, so it’s uplifting when a wider view and international initiatives are taken. Of course, it requires the right horse, the financial means plus plenty of expertise and good fortune to pull it all off. The tale of 2016 Met winner Smart Call is a tough case illustrating the difficulties. Her long term Breeder’s Cup aspirations were scuppered just a month out from the big day when she went wrong during preparations at Newmarket.
Despite all the things that can go awry when travelling horses across the globe, there are enough success stories to make it viable and a dream worth pursuing. From way back when equine stalwarts Hawaii and Colorado King made forays to America, to more recent representatives such as London News, Horse Chestnut, JJ the Jet Plane and Variety Club – quality South African invaders have somehow overcome the odds and made an impact.
With a bold, “nothing ventured- nothing gained” attitude, the sporting Kieswetter brothers are getting set to embark on a grand adventure to really test Whisky Baron’s durability, and see how he stacks up against formidable international opposition.