The withdrawal of the meeting’s drawcard, Model Man, seemed a minor problem to Turffontein officials and stewards when a trade-union reaction from the trainers over a dispute with theSaturday clubs and then heavy rain the night before the race nearly forced cancellation or at least postponement of the meeting.
Turffontein officials must believe that a jinx hangs over the meeting at the Johannesburg course on the last Saturday of each November. Principal race is a 1600m weight-for-age event, inaugurated as the South African Invitation Stakes in 1964 when sponsored by the late Charles Engelhard. The race was renamed the Hawaii Stakes in honour of Engelhard’s champion in 1970, later run as the Kronenbrau 1308 and again as the Hawaii Stakes until last year, when Barclays made their debut in horse-racing sponsorship and the race became the Barclays 200 000. The meeting has been cancelled or postponed several times since the 70’s. In 1973 rain forced the race to be postponed until the Monday and six years later the elements ruined Sandy Christie’s greatest coup while general manager. Christie negotiated Steve Cauthen and Willie Shoemaker from the US, Lester Piggott from England and top Australian jockey Roy Higgins to ride in the big race. Torrential spring rains transformed Turffontein into a lake, the meeting was abandoned and the four overseas riders returned home without getting within patting distance of a horse.
Barclays plans to transform Turffontein into an 1886 mining town for the banking group’s inaugural sponsorship last year were also washed into the drains by heavy spring rains. About 4 000 people turned out at a wet and muddy Turffontein to watch the inaugural Operation Hunger Goldrush and stewards and workers at the track bore brave smiles as they squelched through the slush in damp period costumes. Sadly, even teh excitement of Receiver of Revenue worker Douglas Taft becoming an instant millionaire in the goldrush couldn’t prevent what should have been a gala meeting having as much fizz as flat champagne. The principal players in the production were behind bolted stable doors and didn’t make their appearance until three days later. After such misfortune Turffontein and the sponsors – now renamed First National Bank – deserved sunny skies and a trouble free build-up to the last November 28 meeting. Instead, trainers and the weather nearly forced cancellation, or at least postponement. Act 1 in what has become an annual drama began early on the Monday before hte race.
Model Man scratched
A telephone call from trainer Patrick Lunn at Clairwood stunned Turffontein officials. Model Man, reigning champion of the south African turf and 4/10 favourite for the R300 000 First National 300 000, had not recovered from a bruised tendon sustained two weeks earlier and was scratched. The withdrawal of the meeting’s drawcard seemed a minor problem to Turffontein officials and stewards two hours later.
Highveld trainers, angered by the decision of the clubs racing on Saturdays not to contribute to the Trainers’ Medical Benefit Fund, scratched 120 of the 180 horses entered for the meeting. Trainers also decided not to nominate horses for the Gosforth Park meeting on December 5. Faced with the prospect of losing two major meetings, stewards of the Saturday clubs were forced into urgent and heated negotiations with trainers’ representatives and a truce was made. All scratched horses were reinstated and three trainers and three stewards were nominated to hold talks on the issue the following afternoon. The dispute had been simmering for months. Until recently, trainers’ contributions to the medical fund were financed by the Owners’ and Trainers’ Association (OTA), which controls three of the four Wednesday clubs on the Highveld. Faced with rising contributions, the OTA refused to continue to bear the full cost and trainers requested Saturday clubs to contribute R200 a race – or about R100 000 a year.
A special subcommittee turned trainers down flat, apparently without giving the matter due thought and sparked a trade-union reaction from the trainers. Fortunately, the Tuesday afternoon talks were successful and certain proposals have been forwarded to the Witwatersrand Association of Racing Clubs for approval. No details had been released at the time of writing but it is understood that the formula hammered out at the meetings involves trainers contributing 0,5 percent of all stakes each year (about R90 000) with the racing clubs financing the rest. The clubs’ contribution will decrease each year as new trainers will not qualify for the subsidy. The trainers’ response to the Saturday clubs’ refusal to contribute was at least partially justified given that the subcommittee clearly did not investigate the case thoroughly. However, that group of individuals did the image of Highveld trainers and horseracing immense harm by selecting a sponsored race meeting to hold a boycott. To draw a sponsor into the conflict was an unforgivable move.
Turffontein had been faced with another controversy two weeks previously, when only 15 horses were declared at first acceptance for the First National, which was linked to Operation Hunger Goldrush III – a promotion aimed at raising money for Operation Hunger. Sixteen goldrush finalists from the hundreds of thousands who bought the R10 sweepstake tickets would each be represented by an athlete in a 1600m race a few minutes before the First National. Each athlete would then draw a First National runner on behalf of a finalist with a R1-million payout to the finalist holding the name of the winning horse. The competition required a maximum field of 16 runners and Turffontein and Operation Hunger were in trouble when only 15 horses were declared at first acceptance with prospects of several scratchings at final acceptance. That would have left many Operation Hunger finalists with a R5 000 consolation prize and no chance of winning the R1-million bonanza. Intense canvassing by Turffontein officials resulted in all 15 first acceptors being declared to run but only 13 went to the post, resulting in many complaints. Heavy rain the night before the meeting was about to force a replay of the previous year’s postponement until a helicopter saved the day. Two jockeys galloped horses on the Saturday morning and was was adamant that the meeting would have to be postponed. The other thought that there was only a 50-50 chance of racing.
Seizing on a revolutionary idea tried successfully by Clairwood general manager Basil Thomas a few months earlier, Turffontein hired a helicopter to dry the track. The helicopter hovered two feet above selected areas for two hours and dispersed the water so successfully that the official going was changed from heavy to yielding.
With Model Man out of contention, punters entrusted favouritism to Main Man. Trainer Jean Heming’s charge went off at 2/1 in spite of a dismal performance in the Germiston November Handicap three weeks previously in his first start since pipping Model Man on advantageous handicap terms in the Mainstay 1800 at Clairwood in July. Natal raider Sloop, a disappointment in the Keith Hepburn Champion Stakes at Turffontein in his previous start, was second favourite at 9/2. Natal raider Another Treat (11/2) and Yardmaster (6/1) were the other popular choices.
Strictly on November Handicap running Main Man’s price bordered on lunacy. He had faded badly after setting the pace to finish 9 lengths behind runner-up Yardmaster in that contest and, although 6 kg better off, had to improve several lengths to play a role in the finish. Nevertheless there were sound reasons for believing that the colt could make the improvement. Trainer Jean Heming had stated that drainage problems with her training tracks, which had hindered the preparation of her runners for weeks, ad been corrected and there appeared every chance that Main Man would be much fitter for the First National. Punters who fell for the excuses were inquiring about overdraft facilities at First National less than 48 hours later and goldrush finalist De Villiers Melville’s joy at drawing Main Man was shortlived. Melville would have had a better chance of winning the R1 million if he had been represented by a Kyalami riding hack.
As in the November Handicap, Main Man raced easily through the turn as he disputed the lead with sprinter First Base. The pair were 3 lengths clear of Yardmaster and Beyond the Pale, who were followed by Jungle Rock and Sloop with Another Treat in the middle of the field. First Base darted to the inside fanning off the false rail into the straight at the 700m mark, while jockey Michael Roberts plotted a straight course on Main Man down the centre of the track Main Man looked the part until Yardmaster, Sloop and Shooting High zeroed in about 500m from home. Roberts asked for an effort and had he been driving a car, would have thought he had pushed the brake pedal and not the accelerator. Main Man’s head dropped, he wobbled and was soon several lengths behind as Yardmaster and Sloop drew away from Shooting High to duel for the R172 500 first prize.
Nursing Main Man
Roberts’ thoughts were no longer on winning, merely on nursing Main Man to the post, and his mount finished at a canter 47 lengths behind the winner. Yardmaster, obviously fully recovered from a strenuous run in the November Handicap, was not to be outdone and forged ahead of Sloop from the 200m mark to win by two lengths. Shooting High stayed on strongly for the R30 000 third prize 2 3/4 lengths further back with Jungle Rock fourth. Roberts attributed Main Man’s worst run of his career to heart trouble and his view was earlier shared by Jeff Lloyd, who rode the colt in the November Handicap. “I think he’s got ticker trouble,” said Roberts. “He’s finished.” A veterinary examination ordered by the stipendiary stewards revealed nothing amiss with Main Man although more extensive tests might confirm the jockey’s opinion. Heming had no answers. “It’s no use continuing if he is going to run like this. He will have to be retired if we cannot pinpoint the problem.”
Main Man’s performance must have left co-owner Joe Stravino deeply depressed. Stravino bought Zwi Herholdt’s share in the colt before the November Handicap. Herholdt made the right move in selling his Main Man share but an ill-advised decision to sell Yardmaster for R57 500 at the end of the gelding’s two-year-old career has cost him a small fortune. Yardmaster was transferred from Heming to Vaal trainer Tobie Spies by his new owners and has since won five races and R282 475 in stakes for total earnings of R290 145. By Golden Thatch (Ire) and bred at Graham Beck’s Maine Chance Farms Stud, Yardmaster was a steal for R22 000 at the 1985 National Yearling Sales. Irish-bred Golden Thatch, winner of six races from 1000m to 1200m in Britain, has sired several top-class runners since going to stud in this country in 1980. They include Computaform sprint winner Tucaman and With Haste, but Yardmaster now rates his best son to date. Yardmaster and, to a lesser extent, horses like Tucaman and Gallo’s Gold have disproved the theory that Golden Thatch (Ire) offspring do not train on and the sire’s yearlings could be much in demand at the next National Yearling Sales.
Littered with black type
Yardmaster’s dam line is littered with black type. His dam Rainbow gold did not win but the daughter of Prince Sao (Fr) is a half-sister to three feature-race winners in Blue Tavanier, Perle d’Or and Tres Haut. Yardmaster was her fifth foal, the previously most successful being feature-race winner Village Deep, who is by Del Sarto (USA).
Jungle Rock is soon to be lost to racetracks. The big grey’s racing ability has been blunted by sexual urges for some time and he has often disappointed his legion of supporters but has done much to generate interest in Highveld racing. In spite of an improved show in finishing fourth in the First National, the Lawn Syndicate has taken a wise decision to retire the five-year-old to stud. He might make a final appearance in a 1400m race at Turffontein on December 12 after which he is likely to begin winding down for a career as a sire at the Alchemy Stud in the Bar Valley. He has the pedigree and build to make a top sire and, had sexual motives not overcome his enthusiasm for racing as a late three-year-old, he would have been eminently more successful as a racehorse.
Turnover of R5,77 million at the First National meeting was slightly down on last year but about R300 000 was lost owing to the scratchings of two fancied horses at the start of minor races. Attendance was a respectable 19400.
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