NICCI GARNER: BLACK TOGA has been all the rage in early betting for the Premier’s Champion Stakes but he has not bumped the same calibre of runner as War Horse and might have to play second fiddle to trainer Corne Spies’ runner.
Both colts have won three races apiece and finished second in another, but Black Toga’s biggest win came in the Listed Gatecrasher Stakes, while War Horse already has a Grade 1 win to his credit. He ran on strongly to beat Shimmer And Shine in the Golden Horseshoe over 1400m at this track on Durban July Day.
Another of his wins came at G3 level, when he beat Mogok’s Desire by a long neck in the Protea Stakes over 1100m. And arguably his best effort to date came in the Listed Storm Bird Stakes in which he finished just 0.75 lengths behind Soft Falling Rain. Soft Falling Rain is so well regarded by trainer Mike de Kock that he has left our shores for an international campaign at next year’s Dubai World Cup Carnival, which puts that effort into perspective.
War Horse’s only failure to date came in the SA Nursery, but that run was too bad to be true. He is bred to relish 1600m and although not optimally drawn in No 10 stall he should pack too much class for his chief rival.
Spies said: “We have taken note of Black Toga’s runs but I still cannot see him beating War Horse.
“He was a half-baked egg on July day but I thought we should give him a look at the course and go for this race. He is a really good horse I would be disappointed if he got beaten.”
Black Toga won his debut over 1400m at Greyville in April and there were good excuses for his next run because he reared at the start and hung out in the straight before finishing second to Indaba My Children.
The Vaughan Marshall-trained bay won his next two starts, most recently downing Umbrella Thorn over 1450m at Clairwood. He comes into this race with his confidence riding high and has shown no signs of stopping in his races, so should relish this longer distance.
Marshall agrees with that assessment, saying: “I have no doubts about him campaigning over 1600m at Greyville. He’s shown in his last run that he is a high-quality horse and he should run a big race at this level.’’
De Kock has already secured the trainers’ title for the fourth time in the last five years and his charge Lehaaf is one for the shortlist, even though he finished 4.75 lengths behind Black Toga (2kg or two lengths better off) over 1450m at Clairwood this month. That was only his second career start and the colt was cut into, which might have affected his performance. He had previously won over 1400m at this track on debut and should enjoy the distance.
Heavenisaracehorse steps up in class but must enter the reckoning on his short-head second to Mogok’s Desire over 1160m in his debut. That collateral form indicates he is not much inferior to War Horse and the fact that he lost two lengths at the start makes the run more meritorious. He went on to win over 1400m and two of his conquests won next time out. The 1600m is probably at the upper reaches of his stamina, but he looks certain to make his presence felt at some point during the race.
Assistant Chesney van Zyl said: “He’s in the deep end straight out of a maiden win but I rate him highly. His work is good at home and I really believe that he will run in the first four.’’
Act Fast and Shimmer And Shine can also not be written off. Act Fast, who is carded to wear blinkers for the first time, found Black Toga a neck too good in their debuts, while Shimmer And Shine was hampered in the Golden Horseshoe and will strip cherryripe now.