Just how tough a race did Chesalon have in the Vodacom Durban July? The result of the Gr 1 Champions Cup, to be run over 1800m at Greyville on Saturday, could well hinge on that question. Mike Bass's charge looked set to give jockey Jeff Lloyd his first July triumph earlier this month, but things went awry as he started to hang late, condemning his rider to third place for an astounding ninth time in South Africa's premier race.
It's easy to feel sympathy for both horse and rider, as Chesalon was stiffly treated at the weights that day and was entitled to feel the pressure in the closing stages. If the July hasn't taken too much out of him, he looks well set to bounce back and notch up his first Gr 1 victory on Saturday.
Chesalon has always looked a smart sort and followed his Winter Classic victory last season with a fluent win in the Premier Trophy, also over this trip, earlier this term. Then followed a very useful J & B Met trial when fifth in the Queens Plate but he was scratched from the Met itself due to lameness a few days before the big race.
His winter campaign in KwaZulu-Natal suggests that he is well over his problems, as he has placed in all of the Drill Hall Stakes, Betting World 1900 and the July itself and he is ideally distance suited here. The weight range of this conditions event is much more compressed than the July, which works in his favour, and he gets the services of another top jockey in Bernard Fayd'herbe. This is a wide open contest but he should be the one to beat if he has recovered from his July exertions.
Solo Traveller has been rather disappointing for much of this season when one considers that he was a dual Guineas winner just over a year ago. However, he redeemed himself with a top effort in the July when running on for a close fifth, his best effort in some time. The drop back in trip should suit him down to the ground and there's never been any doubt that he can go with the best of them when his mind is on racing. Strictly speaking, he is some way out at the weights on current ratings, but his past exploits show that he is better than his present mark of 106 and a repeat of his July run will see him go very close here.
Trainer Sean Tarry sends out a three-pronged attack and old man Buy And Sell has bragging rights over this field in that he actually lowered the colours of the mighty Pocket Power in this race back in 2008. That was a long time ago, of course and while Buy And Sell has shown flashes of form (he was not disgraced in this race last year and went heart-breakingly close to winning the Cup Trial last month) he can no longer be expected to perform consistently at this level these days. Chances are that he may once again be used as a pacemaker, which he did to great effect for stablemate Gold Onyx in the Cup Trial.
Gold Onyx has gotten his act together following an indifferent spell as a 3-year-old and he followed listed victories in the Sledgehammer and Cup Trial with a very respectable effort in the July, staying on for a close seventh, beaten just 2.65 lengths. He's distance suited and goes well at this track - in fact, it's almost two years to the day since he scored his biggest career victory, a brilliant effort in the Gr 1 Premiers Champion Stakes here. He warrants plenty of respect.
Whiteline Fever is the third Tarry runner and he was just behind Gold Onyx in the July. That was a decent run, given the huge step up in class that he was taking and he had earlier finished just ahead of stablemate and July winner Pomodoro when finishing fourth in the Daily News 2000. He looks to have more scope for improvement than many of his rivals and he cannot be ignored.
Pierre Jourdan, Tales Of Bravery and Castlethorpe are, jointly, the highest-rated runners in this line-up and they share an identical narrative coming into the race. All three of them were doomed to failure in the July, due to a combination of too much weight over the distance and a poor draw for each of them. This race, though, will offer a much more enticing prospect for their connections. They are much more favourably treated at the weights this time around, and all of them will prefer this shorter trip. They've got Gr 1 form to their names and it wouldn't be a huge shock to see the eventual winner emerging from this trio.
Master Plan was a comfortable winner of a slowly-run Gold Circle Derby and ran very well when second in the Betting World 1900 prior to that. He faces a much stiffer task at these weights, though, and further improvement will be required to beat this lot - although, that could well be forthcoming, as he looks a progressive sort.
Black Wing hasn't quite lived up to the promise of his fourth placing in last year's Daily News 2000 and seems more at home over a mile these days. He needs to show a bit more to trouble the principals here but he does come into the race in good form and could perhaps sneak into a minor placing if things go his way.
That leaves us with Lion In Winter, who is no slouch, having won eight races up to Gr 2 level, but whose recent form leaves him somewhat short of what is required to make an impact here.
It's a tricky race and cases can be made for nearly every runner. One has to stick ones neck out at some point, though, and Chesalon and Solo Traveller are taken to fight it out at the expense of Gold Onyx and Pierre Jourdan.