Clairwood Park on Mainstay 1800 day was the ideal setting for the race of the year – the renewed clash between the country’s top racehorse Model Man and heir-apparent, Bush Telegraph. The stage was set for either the former to emerge as the nation’s first equine millionaire or for the latter to maintain his brilliant unblemished record. But then a bit player in the form of Main Man stepped from the wings to grab centre stage.
Star performers are an essential ingredient for any real entertainment, no matter what the eventual outcome, and perhaps it’s the unexpected that makes for racing being such an exciting spectacle. The Mainstay 1800 provided it all. Certainly the big names were there and in the end, it was an Oscar-winning performance by champion jockey Jeff Lloyd aboard Main Man that upstaged the powerful Garth Puller - Bush Telegraph, Basil Marcus - Model Man combinations.
The stage was set for a real humdinger when, within a week of the Rothmans July, the connections of both Bush Telegraph and Model Man elected to allow their charges to stand their ground at the final acceptance for the Gr1 Mainstay 1800. This alone assured a record crowd at the picturesque suburban track. That another nine runners - including the previous season's Horse of the Year - who collectively had won 69 races and more than R2,7 million in stakes made up the field to face starter Don Allanson, was an additional bonus.
Seldom has a race attracted so much attention, even in circles beyond which the Turf is a general topic of conversation. Would three-year-old Bush Telegraph stretch his unbeaten sequence to ten despite a 4kg swing in the weights in favour of Model Man, the horse he had beaten little more than a length in the Rothmans July, or would Model Man succeed where Irish import Spanish Pool had failed a few seasons back when similarly poised to become the first Thoroughbred in the country to crash through the million rand earnings mark? These, and a few other questions, were answered a little after 3 o'clock on a colourful 25 July afternoon.
The betting boards had Model Man firming from a 13/10 call the day before the race to an odds-on chance at 8/10 by the start. The July winner was not without his host of followers and he too shortened going off at 18/10. For the balance, bookmakers’ odds indicated little more than scant hope of toppling these two stars.
Three-year-olds have an impressive record in this race and two from this category filled the next spots in the betting – Cape challenger Heir To Riches at 8’s with the Rand’s Main Man on offer at two points longer. Heir To Riches had run away with the Mainstay Trial over 1600m at his previous start, slamming a pretty useful field by a ridiculously easy 7 lengths. He had been second to Pedometer in the Natal Derby and 1 1/2 lengths off Bush Telegraph in the Daily News 2000 so came into the Mainstay 1800 with a distinct place chance.
Main Man was a brilliant juvenile and but for losing the Smirnoff Plate to Bush Telegraph on an objection, would have been unbeaten at two. He won his first start at three this season and then came out to make hacks of his rivals in heavy going for the SA Invitation Stakes – a remarkable performance by a colt who many felt would not get the 1600m. But then his bubble was burst, first being beaten into fourth place as a 1/4 favourite for a B division sprint and then again beaten in the same class over 1400m next time out. It was then on to Natal for the winter season with the Gr1 SA Guineas at Greyville his first objective, but once more success eluded him. After appearing the likely winner, eh went under narrowly to a faster finishing Sloop by a widening neck. in his only other start prior to the Mainstay, Main Man ran a fine race but simply wasn’t good enough when an ever increasing 6 3/4 lengths adrift of Model Man in the Gr1 Schweppes Challenge over Clairwood’s 1600m. Still, he was a good colt but good enough to reverse the decision with Model Man over an additional 200m, even allowing for the 5kg pull in weights?
Sloop, conqueror of Main Man in record time for the Guineas, a close third to Bush Telegraph and Star Abbot in the Rupert Ellis Brown Memorial and winner of the King’s Cup in his three previous starts, was easy to back at 16/1 for the Mainstay.
And what about the Terrance Millard pairing of Jungle Rock and Enchanted Garden, both having been prominent until well into the straight in the Rothmans July at their previous appearance? The betting indicated that neither had a chance with Model Man and Bush Telegraph.
It was a majestic Model Man who really looked the part as he strode into the parade ring. Not that Bush Telegraph, or, for that matter, the balance of the field looked out of place in the high-class line-up for the R300 000 race. The favourite’s preparation by conditioner Patrick Lunn left nothing to be desired and the imposing Elliodor (Fr) colt looked set to run the race of his life.
As had been the case in the Rothmans July, Model Man - who in some of his earlier races had shown a reluctance to enter the starting stalls - was the first runner loaded. The remainder of the field followed quietly and soon there was an expectant hush over the packed stands and those watching on the giant CTV Telepark screen - a new innovation at Clairwood Park.
The eleven runners came out in a perfect line with Enchanted Garden first to break ranks towards the outside and come over to take up the running on the paint. In the meantime, Jeff Lloyd elected to keep Main Man on a straight course from the start, only moving over to show the way along the fence going through the 1400. At that stage he was little more than a length clear of Heir To Riches, stable mates Enchanted Garden and Jungle Rock with Bush Telegraph and Model Man racing stride for stride about 3 lengths off the pace. This was the order as they swung into the straight with about 600m left to race and it was here that the Mainstay 100 was won and lost.
Taking full advantage of his light weight, Lloyd called upon Main Man for that little extra and the colt skipped well clear into what eventually proved to be an unassailable lead, some 4 lengths over Model Man and Bush Telegraph coming off the false rail, with Enchanted Garden, Heir To Riches and Jungle Rock still in contention. With Main Man steaming for the line, Marcus pulled Model Man out to the centre of the track for his final drive with Puller and Bush Telegraph electing to take the shortest route home down the inside.
From the 400m marker there were only three in the race - Main Man clear with both Model Man and Bush Telegraph desperately trying to cut back the front runner's lead. Model Man was flying and closing the gap with every stride with Bush Telegraph, getting perhaps a little more than his fair share of belts down the left flank, battling gamely and sticking to his task down the inside. For Model Man the wire came a fraction too soon - with him in mid-stride and Main Man at full stretch, it was only the nod of heads that separated them for the Rand colt to secure the judge's verdict by the shortest of short-heads. Bush Telegraph, who never stopped trying, was far from disgraced in third spot, little more than a length further back. Surprise of the race was six-year-old Uncle Percy, stable companion to the winner. This gelded son of Jungle Cove (USA) finished like an express train to run more fancied candidates out of the minor placings.
It was a great ride by Jeff Lloyd, who displayed the touch of a true champion. It was his fourth success of the meeting, boosting his seasonal tally to 200 - just three short of "Muis" Roberts' 1981 - 82 season record. It was a gutsy performance by Main Man in his first attempt at the distance, cutting out the 1800m in 1:46,01, just a tenth off the track and race record set by Sabre in 1974. Jean Heming, a trainer of note, has done extremely well with this son of Trocadero from Adamastor (Fr) matron Madam Magic, a R36 000 purchase from the Koeberg Stud’s select draft at the 1985 National Yearling Sales. Main Man, now a six time winner, has taken his stake earnings to R419 040.
Without detracting from the winner’s performance, one wonders whether Model Man lost to Main Man, or was beaten by Bush Telegraph. Marcus and his mount stuck to Puller and Bush Telegraph from the moment the gates were sprung and from there to the entrance to the straight, little more than a short-head separated them. Could it be that both riders were so intent on watching each other, that they momentarily forgot about Jeff Lloyd and the lightly weighted Main Man bowling along happily at the head of affairs? Once in line for home, Jeff Lloyd and Main Man poached an additional advantage by getting first run while their two chief rivals were deciding where to deliver their respective challenges. This to my mind is where the 1987 Mainstay 1800 was won and lost.
Be that as it may, it was a great day’s racing and by far the most successful in the long history of the track. Clairwood Park officials had done their homework and done it well with a massive marketing and publicity campaign paying handsome dividends. Certainly the sponsors got value for their money with a magnificent race, one which over the years has been graced by many of the stars of South African racing. The racing public too were not overlooked for apart from the attractive ten-event programme, they were kept in the picture with up-to-date information and treated to an outstanding on-course TV programme, possibly the best of its kind seen on any South African track to date.
The record crowd responded by pushing nearly R4,7 million through the tote – more than a million better than the previous year’s meeting. The drawcard of attractive racing was admirably advertised by the fact that on-course betting showed a 34% increase over the corresponding meeting 12 months earlier.
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