If there is a weekend in 2019 made for horse-racing fanatics, this is it.
Friday night’s meeting at Greyville heralds the opening of the SA Champions Season in KwaZulu-Natal and there will be eight feature races on the nine-race programme.
In Louisville, Kentucky, Saturday sees the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby at which Mint Julep, the traditional Derby drink since 1930, will be sold for $2,500 in a fancy cup etched with the twin spires motif of Churchill Downs Racecourse.
Refreshments won’t be near that expensive at Turffontein’s Gins ‘n Roses Festival on Saturday which coincides with Champions Day at the city track, where a 12-race card brings the curtain down on the Highveld’s Autumn Feature Season.
Mike de Kock, who has been celebrating his R9m National Sales purchase at the "Racing Masters" Golf Tournament in Swaziland this week, will be rushing back to saddle Sheikh Hamdan’s star three-year-old Hawwaam in the topliner, the grade1 Premier’s Champions Challenge (R4m) over 2,000m.
Hawwaam gave his growing band of supporters a shock when he crashed through the rails at the parade ring and bolted before April's SA Derby. He had to be withdrawn and missed what would have been his preparation run for Saturday’s race, but assistant trainer Mathew de Kock reported on Thursday that the colt is fit and ready.
De Kock said: “We took Hawwaam to Turffontein two weeks ago and gave him and work partner Soqrat a good, hard training gallop before the start of races. He is doing well and won’t be ring-rusty.”
Sean Tarry’s seven-year-old champion Legal Eagle and his 2018 Summer Cup winner Tilbury Fort will ensure that Hawwaam has some opposition, while Johan Janse van Vuuren’s much improved Divine Odyssey is also in with a shout.
Hawwaam, however, will be hard to beat and his No10 will be the popular number in "banker" position when punters fill in their Pick 6 tickets. A pool of R5m is expected.
Tarry, who saddled seven winners at the Champions Day meeting in 2017, will have a strong hand in two of the day’s feature sprints with runners owned by Chris van Niekerk.
Exquisite Touch, the five-year-old mare, looks a cut above her rivals in the grade2 Camellia Stakes and three-year-old Chimichuri Run is weighted with a big chance in the grade1 Computaform Sprint.
Race 1: (8) Tree Tumbo (2) Dads Roots (6) Magic Vision (7) Tiger’s Rock
Race 2: (15) Stage Dance (8) Invisible (2) Annatjie (5) Candy Cane
Race 3: (8) True To Life (1) Basadi Faith (5) Gin Fizz (9) Upcloseandpersonal
Race 4: (13) Twilight Moon (3) Frosted Gold (1) Battleoftrafalgar (4) Gotthegreenlight
Race 5: (1) Secret Potion (7) Return Flight (3) Silvan On Fire (2) Fresnaye
Race 6: (3) Exquisite Touch (5) Schippers (14) Comaneci (9) Covered In Snow
Race 7: (7) Forest Express (2) Liege (1) Walter Smoothie (3) Sunshine Silk
Race 8: (10) Hawwaam (2) Tilbury Fort (6) Divine Odyssey (1) Legal Eagle
Race 9: (13) Chimichuri Run (14) Van Halen (7) Trip To Heaven (5) Pacific Trader
Race 10: (5) Protea Paradise (3) Warrior’s Rest (1) Soldier On (4) Morning Catch
Race 11: (7) Bien Venue (8) Throng (3) Dan The Lad (6) Hakeem
Race 12: (6) Tendre (9) French Leave (4) Master and Man (1) Zeal and Zest