It’s always easy after the event, but for those who needed something more than form to go on to find the winner of the 1987 Game Gold Cup, the offer was there for all to see. The sponsors’ familiar pink and black colours also happened to be the livery carried by the eventual record-breaking winner Aquanaut.
Not that portents were needed to include the son of Foveros (GB) in the short-list of likely winners for this Group 1 race, the premier long distance event on the South African racing calendar. He had advertised his well-being and ability over ground with a runaway victory in the 2400m Lonsdale Stirrup Cup Gr3 at his previous start. But there were many useful stayers ranging against him in the 3200m Game Gold Cup.
Cape trainer Terrance Millard had secured a strangle-hold over the race, having sent out the winner in the four previous years. He was represented by the Argentinian-bred Potomac, dual Derby winner at both Kenilworth and Turffontein, and a horse who had run a courageous race when touched off by the American-bred Melun in the Miracle Mowers Gr2. Potomac (Arg) was a well backed second favourite to provide the stable with their fifth straight Cup win.
Rand trainer Jean Heming, who had closed out the season which ended the previous day as the country’s leading conditioner, had caused the sensation of the 1986-87 term when she sent out Main Man to upset Model Man and Bush Telegraph in the Mainstay 1800 Gr1. Her stable fielded a two-pronged challenge with Pedometer and Whisky Bravo.
Pedometer was freely tipped as the Cup winner, having made the Natal Derby Gr2 his own with a ridiculously easy 4 1/2 length victory at his previous start. Like Potomac (Arg), he was a dual Classic winner, having won just as comfortably the SA Derby Gr2 over the testing 2450m at Turffontein. He was the 5/2 favourite to give Jean Heming her first major success of the new season. Whisky Bravo had yet to prove herself at the distance, but had two Oaks placings to her credit along with fair recent form. Voodoo Charm was a previous winner of the Greyville marathon, while King’s Choir had shown true stamina with his 10 1/2 length OK Gold Bowl Gr2 triumph over the distance at Turffontein. Natal colt Morning Drive had a win at 3000m to his credit and was third in the Lonsdale at his last start. French-bred Gitano looked to be in the picture, coming off two Cape victories to add to his three overseas wins – one at 2500m in France; Sandyman (SNL) had closed well at the finish to be sixth in the Rothmans July Handicap Gr1; Dancing Zeta (Fr) had won over 2800m at Clairwood a fortnight earlier and had to be respected; while Cincinnati, although one of the longshots, had followed up three recent wins wtih second spot in the 2850m General Accident SA St Leger at Newmarket and was the bottom weight for the Cup. Add to these Ralph Rixon’s American-bred French raced Melun, winner of the Mowers and fourth in the Rothmans July. Rixon said in a pre-race interview that he believed the Rothmans had come a month too early for Melun (USA), who was now right for the Cup. The son of Riverman, sire of two Arc de Triomphe winners, had been working well – a fact borne out by Cup pilot Karl Neisius – and as far as Rixon was concerned, the only other runner he had respect for in the race was Pedometer.
Bartie Leisher, rider of the favourite, was brimful of confidence despite being drawn on the extreme outside of the field. Pedometer came out of the stalls well enough but was held wide first time through the stretch and it was only well into the back straight that he was able to get over to the fence behind pace-making stable companion Whisky Bravo. The 19 runners came out in a line at the break and in the customary cavalry charge going past the stands for the first time, Morning Drive went out to show the way. With 2400m left to race, Whisky Bravo had skipped clear by 6 lengths from Aquanaut with Morning Drive, Dancing Zeta (Fr), Doubly Sure, Gitano (Fr), King’s Choir and Melun (USA) most prominent of the balance.
The field took closer order at the Drill Hall but, with half the journey covered, Whisky Bravo was still setting a smart pace about 3 lengths clear of Pedometer with Aquanaut a similar distance back third. As they negotiated the turn there was little change, Dancing Zeta (Fr), Gitano (Fr), Cincinnati and Melun (USA) all began to get into challenging position with Potomac (Arg) closing the gap.
Leisher wasted no time in sending Pedometer away as heads were turned for home, but no sooner had he made his move than Gavin Howes brought Aquanaut alongside the favourite in a matter of strides. At the subway Leisher had gone for the whip and was clearly in trouble and Aquanaut soon had his measure. Increasing his lead with every stride, Aquanaut had the best part of 3 lengths to spare at the line from Pedometer with Melun (USA) failing by only a head for second money having made up a lot of ground down the centre of the track. Cincinnati was little more than a length away in the minor placing with Brass Bar and Voodoo charm running on to be included in the division of the R250 000 stake. Such was the pace that Aquanaut stopped the clocks in 3:18 to clip 1,60 seconds off race and track record established by Rack And Ruin in 1970. Aquanaut shouldered 8 kg more than Rack And Ruin in establishing this new record.
For both trainer Mark Watters and jockey Gavin Howes it was a first time success in this major race, which went to a Cape stable for the fifth year in succession. Both trainer and rider had been confident of success, Watters having said before the race that the colt was distance-suited, had done very well in his preparation and would be right there at the finish. Howes, remarking that the colt had been an easy winner over all but 800m of the Gold Cup trip when landing the Lonsdale, regarded Pedometer as the horse to beat, but felt that the favourite had a lot to do from his wide barrier draw. How right both proved to be.
A young horse – he turned four the day of the race – Aquanaut stamped himself as a grand stayer in his first crack at the distance. Now the winner of 8 races, he has taken his earnings to R213 250 and has certainly proved to be a good buy at R30 000 from Dr Tommy Foulkes’ 1985 select sales draft. A half-brother to Classic horse Agitator from the family of sound stayer Lucinius, he’s from a mare who won at 1800m who is by French horse Alyschamps, who stayed all day, winning 6 races from 2400 to 3100m.
The winner’s effort apart, the truly remarkable performance of the race was that of up-and-coming sire Foveros (GB). His racing ability is well chronicled, having been named the Champion Older Horse in South Africa, winning 8 races from 1200 to 2000m, including the J&B Metropolitan Stakes Gr1, Queen’s Plate Gr1, Hawaii Stakes Gr1, Germiston November Handicap Gr2, Phillip Cornes Trophy and Ladbrokes Blue Riband Trial, together with places in teh Prix d’Ispahan Gr1, Clairwood Champion Stakes Gr1, Natal Flying Championship Gr1 and Champion Stakes Gr1. Retired to stud in 1982, Foveros (GB) was an immediate success when his first progeny came out to race in the 1985-85 season. His first runner Powder Keg was a winner – in fact second in the same race was another Foveros (GB) colt in Sir Edwin. The next season with his first runner of the term, Fearless Runner, victorious in the Cape and then to really put the seal on his ability as a sire, Foveros (GB)’s first runner of the new 1987-88 season Aquanaut came out to land the Game Gold Cup. Apart from getting a stayer of the calibre of Aquanaut in his first crop, Foveros (GB) also sired the exciting sprinter Enforce from his opening season at stud. Enforce raced himself into the top sprinting bracket when he culminated his sophomore year with a scintillating victory in the Group 2 Durban Merchant’s Handicap. Like Aquanaut, Enforce was also bred at Normandy Stud.
The Averof (GB) blood was very much to the fore in the Game Gold Cup, for it was his son who produced the winner while he was responsible for runner-up Pedometer. Broadlands Stud based Averof (GB) is from a Classic-producing female line, embracing the likes of Roberto (Gr1 Epsom Derby), Pearl Cup (Gr1 French 1000 Guineas, Gr1 French Oaks, Gr1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe), Pearl Diver (Gr1 Epsom Derby) and Sleeping Partner (Gr1 Epsom Oaks).
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