2017 Cape Summer of Champions a season of firsts

The 2017 Cape Summer of Champions is a season of firsts as Sun International takes over the sponsorship of Cape Town’s premier race, the R5 million Grade 1 Met and L’Ormarins introduces an extension of the famous blue and white L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate day to South Africa’s first two-day Racing Festival at Kenilworth.

Not only does the Cape Summer season play host to the country’s top horses, but an epic showdown looms as two Champions, the five-year-old multiple Grade 1 winner Legal Eagle and the four-year-old Grade 1 winner and Grade 1 Vodacom Durban July runner-up Marinaresco battle for supremacy.

There are two main features in the Cape Summer of Champions season. The R1 million WFA Grade 1 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate (1600m) on the 7th of January, a Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In race and the season finale, the R5 million Grade 1 Sun Met (2000m) on the 28th of January. Legal Eagle and Marinaresco are set to clash in both.

Legal Eagle, with eight victories and four places from 14 starts, dominated the 2016 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate, winning by 1.5 lengths from Legislate, before finishing second in the Met to the filly Smart Call.

As a then three-year-old, Marinaresco did not contest either race but stepped into the limelight with two strong Grade 3 victories during the Cape winter season. Those victories Marinaresco a trip to Durban, where he flew home late in the country’s premier race, the Grade 1 Vodacom Durban July (2200m) for a scintillating second, before claiming his first Grade 1 victory in the Champions Cup (1800m) at Greyville.
Trained by Sean Tarry, Legal Eagle made his 2016/2017 seasonal debut in mid-November over 1160m at Turffontein with an impressive third placing. Next up was the Grade 2 Green Point Stakes over 1600m at Kenilworth at the beginning of December and his first meeting with Marinaresco.

While Legal Eagle had the run of the race, Marinaresco found himself in traffic and once clear the flying gelding could only manage second, 0.4 lengths behind Legal Eagle. Hence Marinaresco’s trainer, Cape Town based Candice Robinson-Bass, is eager for a rematch in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate.

As the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate is a weight-for-age race, the two will meet at level weights, as in the Green Point, with both carrying 60kgs. The Sun Met, on the other hand, is a conditions race with an unusual feature in that the final field is determined by what is called the Sun Met log.

The position of a horse on the log is determined by a panel of three and takes into account the merit rating, current performance and graded race performance of each horse. Weight allocation is done on a WFA basis with penalties for Grade 1 victories. Legal Eagle is likely to be allocated top weight of 60kgs, but this time he has to concede half a kilo to the year younger Marinaresco.

As expected, with a merit rating of 123 Legal Eagle currently tops the current Sun Met log, with Marinaresco, rated 115, in second. Yet is by no means a two-horse race, with the recent running of the Grade 1 Grand Parade Cape Guineas throwing interesting three-year-olds into the mix.

While Cape Guineas winner William Longsword is being aimed at the $500,000 CTS (1600m) on Met day before an early retirement to stud, runner-up Gold Standard has been supplemented for the Sun Met and is likely to have done enough to be in the starting lineup.

Cape trainer Glen Kotzen is, however, still undecided as to whether his star colt will run in either the Sun Met or the Grade 1 Investec Cape Derby, both being contested on the same day.

Another interesting Sun Met entrant is the smart four-year-old filly Bela-Bela from the Justin Snaith Yard, who is currently seventh on the Met log. The beautiful grey filly won the Grade 1 Woolavington 2000 in May before a gutsy sixth place finish in the Vodacom Durban July.

After recently winning her seasonal debut with ease, Bela-Bela’s next race will be the Grade 1 Maine Chance Farms Paddock Stakes, another Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In race, at the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate Festival. Her participation in the Sun Met is however not a certainty as Snaith has indicated that he may run the filly in the Grade 1 WFA Majorca Stakes (1600m) for fillies and mares instead.

The 2017 Cape Summer of Champions season meetings will be broadcast throughout Asian Racing Federation countries and to racing jurisdictions around the world.