Picture: JEFF GRIFFITH/UNSPLASH
Picture: JEFF GRIFFITH/UNSPLASH

In his illustrious career, a number of Gary Player’s many tournament wins were nailing-biting last-putt affairs. It was the same scenario at Turffontein on Saturday when Vars Vicky, bred by the golfing legend, got the verdict in the Senor Santa Stakes by the width of cigarette paper.

Player, who celebrated his 85th birthday last November, remains a huge supporter of racing and bloodstock. In an interview, he said: “I don’t know which I love most — golf or horses. I love them both. Guess, I’ll have to give them a tie.”

A tie it nearly was in the grade 2 Senor Santa with two of the country’s most popular jockeys, Muzi Yeni on Vars Vicky and S’manga Khumalo on Bohica, riding for all their worth over the final 200m and hitting the line locked together.

The commentator couldn’t separate the pair, but the judge studied the photo and gave his verdict — victory to Yeni on Stuart Pettigrew’s sprinter.

This was the Var gelding’s fifth win in eight starts and a feather in the cap for Player as his runner beat horses bred at top studs such as Drakenstein, Varsfontein and Summerhill. The winner is out of Player’s mare Seminole, who retired a two-time winner. As her dam Lupine Lady won four races it’s a strong pedigree.

Once again, the disappointment for off-course punters was the tote dividend of R2.50 returned on Vars Vicky. The starting price with bookmakers was 33-10.

Player will also be delighted with the performance of third-placed Gallic Princess, whom he owns in partnership with Larry Nestadt and Ralphs Racing. The filly was this column’s second choice for the race and made a mockery of her 16-1 starting price.

High-class racing

While Khumalo narrowly missed out in the main event, he was on the mark in the 2,000m Derby Trial on Alec Laird’s Louis The King gelding, Pamushana’s Pride.

Meanwhile, with R16m in feature race stakes on offer for owners during the three-month festival of high-class thoroughbred racing from May to July, SA’s Champions Season in KwaZulu-Natal will launch at Hollywoodbets Greyville in Durban on May 2.

Champions Season will kick off with the traditional running of the Independent On Saturday race meeting featuring the IOS Drill Hall Stakes, the World Sports Betting Guineas and the World Sports Betting Fillies Guineas at the Theatre of Champions, where we will see a number of  Durban July hopefuls stake their claim for a chance to line up in the final field on July 3.

A feast of 53 feature events follows which attracts the best horses from the leading stables countrywide, and promises racegoers, other racing fans and the public much excitement and entertainment throughout the three-month programme.

Champions Season represents one of the world’s biggest and most comprehensive racing festivals, attracting international interest and includes a feature race platform for all categories of racing from the exciting juveniles to the mature stars over distances from 1,000m to 3,200m.

For many trainers the R300,000 grade 2 World Sports Betting 1900, scheduled to run on May 16, will be the preferred pipe-opener for their Vodacom Durban July chargers.

The battle for a place in the final 18-horse field for the  Durban July will heat up on June 12 with the running of the R500,000 grade 1 Gold Challenge and the grade 3 Cup Trial with the meeting also featuring the grade 2 Tibouchina Stakes.

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