JACK MILNER: THERE are times where one has to have sympathy for the handicappers. It is not an easy task and like soccer refereeing and cricket umpiring, it is a thankless job. You do not get praised for good decisions, but you do get slated for bad ones.
The handicappers must have found themselves in a quandary with the Barend Botes-trained Up Front. As a maiden last year the Count Dubois maiden finished second to Hidden Beauty in the Grade 2 SA Fillies Nursery at Turffontein and filled the same position behind Princess Victoria in the Grade 1 Allan Robertson Fillies Championship at Scottsville. On both occasions she was beaten 3.25 lengths.
Up Front was injured during the running of the Grade 1 Golden Slipper at Greyville – also won by Princess Victoria – and was out of action from 2 July until 17 May this year. She returned in a Maiden Plate with a merit rating of 98. She duly obliged, beating Kings Bounty by 2.75 lengths. At that point the handicappers opted to lower her rating by 16 points (8kg).
Botes then ran his filly in a Conditions Plate over 1400m at Turffontein and once again she produced the goods, beating Sacred Feminine by one length. That resulted in her rating being raised, this time by five points (2.5kg).
Botes decided to have his third tilt at Princess Victoria so he took her down to Greyville on Durban July Day to contest the Grade 1 Garden Province Stakes over 1600m. Jockey Karl Neisius had to jump from No 11 draw, a disaster over that course and distance especially on a day where runners battled to come from off the pace. Up Front, after being prominent for most of the trip, faded to finish 7.65 lengths behind Princess Victoria.
As a result, the handicappers have made no adjustment to her merit rating so when she lines up for Race 6 on the Vaal turf track over 1700m on Thursday, she will be racing off what looks a handy weight of 56kg. Anton Marcus, who rode her to victory in her maiden win, is aboard again.
The only concern is whether she will see out the distance. Her two wins have come at 1400m but the manner in which she ran on to win her penultimate race indicates this should be ideal. Jumping from draw No 2, Marcus could well have the run of the race.
This FM 92 Handicap is quite competitive and includes Grade 2 Gauteng Fillies Guineas winner Go Indigo and Magic Smoke, who is on the upgrade. Magic Smoke has won three of her six starts and bounced back to form last time with an impressive 1.75-length victory over Cherry On The Cake on the Vaal sand.
Mike Azzie’s filly has to give 3kg to Up Front and that could a tough ask. Nevertheless, the daughter of Fort Wood looks to have a lot of talent and cannot be ignored.
The same is true of Go Indigo, who appeared to go off the boil after her Fillies Guineas victory. However, trainer Leon Erasmus has his stable in top condition and Go indigo did well to finish 8.25 lengths behind Eton Square in the Grade 3 Jubilee Handicap at Turffontein, giving Gavin van Zyl’s charge 1.5kg. As the winner went on to finish fourth in the Durban July, that form could be good enough to win a race of this nature.
She carries 61.5kg and will be ridden by Marco van Rensburg.