where the horse is always the hero
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Posted 2009-02-26 23:12:33  

The Gr 2 Gauteng Guineas over 1600m is one of the highlights of an exciting card at Turffontein on Saturday and a wide open contest is in store. There are chances aplenty and the problem is compounded by the fact that while there is a clutch of runners with proper big-race form, there could be a few dark horses lurking in the wings, unproven on bare form but improving rapidly enough to have a big say in the finish.

Captain's Table may just be the one to beat, although he can hardly be considered a good thing in such a competitive race. Yet to finish out of the first two in five starts, his best efforts have come in defeat, having been touched off in both the Dingaans (over this course and distance) and the Sea Cottage Stakes over 1800m. His conquerors in those races - respectively, Oracy and Fenerbahce -  re-oppose him here, but with their trainers having cautioned beforehand that they are both seeking a bit more ground, it may well open the door for Captain's Table to get his revenge over a trip that he seems eminently suited to. Piere Strydom rides for Dominic Zaki and this will further increase enthusiasm among his supporters.

Trainer Charles Laird (pictured) holds a strong hand with three runners and New Zealand-bred Oracy is the most accomplished of the three. The highest-rated horse in the race, the son of Zabeel is unbeaten in three starts and created plenty of excitement when winning the Dingaans as it was only his second career start. He showed tremendous resolve that day to get up the line after having made steady progress from off the pace. He was less impressive next time out when he perhaps did not win as spectacularly as expected in a relatively weak Graduation Plate but he is still maturing and with bigger fish to fry, he can hardly have been at his best that day. Despite all the talk of him finding a mile on the sharp side, he looks to have plenty of class and with the blinkers on to sharpen him up, he must still be a big runner.

Both his stablemates come into the race with live chances. Imperial Gesture was trounced by Seattle Ice when second on debut but then got his revenge when the two met in a Graduation Plate over 1450m nearly two months later, quickening smartly to leave his rival for dead. It may have appeared a bit of an upset (Seattle Ice went off at 1/4) and a remarkable form turnaround, but two months is a long time for these lightly-raced youngsters at this stage of their development and it would appear that Imperial Gesture simply made the greater progress following their first meeting. He made a telling impression with that last win and although this is a much stiffer task, he rates a big threat.

Always completes the Laird trio and he is another of those lightly raced horses who has shown plenty of promise but is stepping up in class. He is on the upgrade, having followed up a debut third with two easy wins and although he appears to be looking for further as well, he could be improving enough to make the frame.

Fenerbahce is yet to run a bad race with two wins and three seconds to show from five starts. He has been running in feature company since a facile maiden win at the second attempt, finishing second in the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup and Secretariat Stakes and then showing a very good attitude to wear down Captain's Table in the Sea Cottage Stakes. Trainer Gary Alexander stated immediately after that last win that he saw this one as a Derby prospect, but he looks the sort who is prepared to get his hooves dirty and fight when the chips are down, so don't be surprised to see him in the thick of things.

Paul Matchett's yard is in good form and both his runners look capable of picking up a cheque, albeit they will have to overcome wide draws to do so. Cerise Cherry has became famous as the big-race bridesmaid of his generation and notched up yet another second when chasing home stablemate Mount Hood in the Tony Ruffel Stakes over 1450m last time out. It was great to see him notch up a win of his own in the Graham Back Stakes earlier in the season, but he seems to always find one too good for him and it looks as if he will have to once again settle for the placings at best.

Mount Hood caused a minor upset when landing the Tony Ruffel but he was not winning out of turn, having run some decent races in strong company prior to that. He doesn't seem the most straightforward sort, though, and it remains to be seen whether he can maintain the level of form he showed in that last win.

Continuing with stable pairs, Alec Laird is not out out it with his duo. Sporting Boy kept on for third in the Dingaans having earlier been most impressive when landing a handicap under 62kg against older horses - not bad in a season when many 3-year-olds have battled to concede weight to their older rivals. He flopped last time out in the Cape Guineas but should be a better prospect back on home turf and he could sneak into the frame.

Captain Scott impressed with an easy debut win over a mile and has been placed in two subsequent efforts over shorter. He kept on for third in the Tony Ruffel, is well drawn and should be happier back over this trip, so he cannot be ignored.

Then there's Geoff Woodruff who sends out Seattle Ice and Choisir, both of whom looked very realistic Guineas prospects earlier on but subsequently fluffed their lines. Seattle Ice followed up his maiden win with an impressive victory in an unusually strong Novice Plate where he beat home two decent rivals in Iron Wood and Mount Hood with some ease. It was understandable that he went off at odds-on next time out but as mentioned, he was upstaged by Imperial Gesture. He is now 2,5 kg better off and it may well be that the return to a mile over this galloping track will enable him to get his revenge, but Imperial Gesture was so convincing in victory that day that Seattle Ice may have his work cut out to turn the tables.

Choisir stared off his career in the same vein as his stable companion, notching up a 2-1-1 sequence. He was not disgraced subsequently when fourth behind Fenerbahce and Captain's Table in the Sea Cottage but he never looked like getting on terms with them and it's hard to see him reversing the form here.

Bouquet-Garni has shown promise with three wins from just five starts but they have all been over 1800m and he already looks the sort who may find this trip on the sharp side. His cause won't be helped by being drawn widest of all, but he represents the powerful combination of Mike de Kock and Anthony Delpech and it would be foolish to ignore his chances.

Vertical Takeoff caught the eye with two impressive wins as a juvenile, one of them coming over champion Rocks Off. He then ran a creditable fifth in the Gr 1 Premiers Champion Stakes behind that same rival at the end of last season before being laid off for three months. He never showed upon his return, finishing mid-division in the Graham Beck Stakes but he had a hopeless draw that day. If he can recapture his earlier promise, he could just be the one to make the trifecta pay.

The balance of the field are not without form, but generally look exposed at this level and it would be a surprise to see any of them pop up at the business end of what is set to be a cracker of a race.

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