The 1987 J&B Metropolitan Stakes was the most unusual in the ten years it has been sponsored by Justerini and Brooks, and also the most successful. It went with a sing from the moment it was announced that the race had been put forward to April because of the equine flu.
Prophets of doom feared that without the build-up of the Cape season behind it the Metropolitan would not have the same appeal, and that an autumn Metropolitan would never be able to match the joy of a summer one. Their objections were swept away by the flood of enthusiasm.
The April Metropolitan will be remembered for many things, especially the gambles taken on it. The biggest was that of the sponsors and the South African Turf Club. They staked all on the Cape’s notoriously fickle Easter weather making the grand gesture and providing a perfect afternoon for racing. And it did.
Then there was the gamble by Model Man’s connections. left with a prospect of paying the R32 000 air fare themselves to get the colt to the Cape, they decided to go it alone and pay. And, as everyone now knows, the R32 000 was well spent.
Another thing the April Metropolitan will be remembered for was its colour and its gaiety, quite unusual in the Cape autumn. But most of all, it will be remembered as the meeting that brought Cape racing back to life. In one glorious afternoon it put all the fun back after the long, dead months of equine flu.
The brightly coloured race card proclaimed Met Day a fun day, and from early morning the action was on, the crowd quickly joining into the spirit. Drum majorettes on the track went through routines with remarkable precision, a Coon Carnival troop gyrated about as though it were Tweedenuwejaar, and a pipe band thoughtfully provided a lament when the first outsider won. Music and colour were everywhere.
There were the customary sun umbrellas shading picknickers, and the candy-stripe marquees filled with guests; but there were also displays of vintage cares, and a Tiger Moth which sportingly allowed the horses to pass the winning post before landing there itself.
As for the fashions, they were more conservative than usual. Or as a leading fashion writer had it, very much smarter. Few of the outrageous creations that have raised eyebrows in recent years made an appearance; but then, as a connoisseur of the scene remarked: “It seems there isn’t quite the same urge to reveal all in April.”
Between all the goings-on the first R300 000 Metropolitan was run. As was expected with most of the country’s best horses in the line-up, it, too, provided a thrilling spectacle, and one of the best finishes seen for years.
The only surprising thing was the lack of real pace in the early stages. As had been predicted by every racing enthusiast, the five-year-old grey Clean Break was the first to show; but far from accelerating away as anticipated, he led Mighty Mandarin, Potomac (Arg) and Model Man at a rather sluggish gallop down the back stretch with Jungle Rock, Village Deep, Enchanted Garden, Red Robe, Melun (USA) and Gondolier following.
Only coming through the 800m-marker did the pace really pick up. Mighty Mandarin swept past the tiring Clean Break as he turned for home with Model Man after him and Enchanted Garden, still about 5 lengths back, beginning her run.
Just outside the 250m Model Man had the measure of Mighty Mandarin, but Enchanted Garden was now closing and Model Man began to hang. With 100m to go it looked as if she might catch him, but Basil Marcus put away his stick and Model Man surged forward again to hold his advantage to the post to win by a neck.
It was a great display of riding by Marcus. With the slowing pace he was able to position Model Man well and then make the most of the colt's speed in the run-in. Watching his tactics, one could not help but recall the words of Terrance Millard ten days earlier: "If there's no pace, they'll give the race to Model Man on a plate. He's the fastest horse in the country".
Trainer Patrick Lunn turned out Model Man looking hard and ready for the pace, and the win, Model Man's eleventh from 15 starts for Messrs A. Thompson, A.J. and J.D. Lunn, took his earnings to R645 320 - quite apart from consolidating his position as the best horse in the country.
Model Man was bred at Colin Cohen's Odessa stud by the Lyphard sire Elliodor (Fr) out of the Filipepi mare Top Model, a winner of five races up to 1 400m. His second dam True Beauty (True Cavalier) won up to 1 800m.
Enchanted Garden ran a great race in defeat, leaving the impression she would have given Model Man even more to do over another 100m. Classic Boy and the Port Elizabeth challenger Western Wind were flying at the finish to fill third and fourth spots a mere ¾ length back - Western Wind having been forced to ease and switch in the closing stages.
The biggest disappointments were Potomac (Arg) and Melun (USA). After showing early pace Potomac (Arg) ran on at one pace up the straight to finish 4 ½ lengths back. Melon (USA), on the other hand, was a little slow into his stride and, though making up the leeway, was never going well. He finished at Potomac (Arg)'s girths. Both could do a lot better during the Natal winter season.
Both the sponsors and the SA Turf Club must have been delighted with the success of the meeting. For seldom has a Metropolitan enjoyed such tremendous publicity countrywide, and the tote itself was little below the high summer mark - which was quite remarkable considering it really was out of season and the mass of January holidaymakers were missing.
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