Picture: 123RF/LUKAS GOJDA
Picture: 123RF/LUKAS GOJDA

As Turffontein hosts the “Champion Owner Chris van Niekerk Stakes” at the city track on Saturday, the spotlight is once again on someone who has played a big role in the sport for over two decades.

Despite his business interests, Van Niekerk has found time to assist racing whenever possible steering the ship from choppy seas to calmer waters. He has never been afraid to voice his opinion on topics affecting a sport that has delivered him two Durban July winners.

At the start of the virus in April 2020, Van Niekerk told Business Day: “The perfect storm is offering an opportunity for us to reshape the landscape to paint a sustainable future on a new canvas.

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the single most crucial strategy, or tactics, is to engage with the government as a full and committed partner in a revamped racing industry structure.”

When the Equus awards were announced in August, Van Niekerk was denied a fourth owner’s title because the Racing Association deemed sales races did not count towards earnings.

If the former PG Bison boss was miffed about this, he never showed it. Instead he said that Suzette Viljoen’s win was “a great story for racing”.

However, he added: “At the same time, it is my view that there are already far too many squabbles in a relatively small industry. We need more love and unity.”

Van Niekerk has captured the 2020/2021 Highveld Champion Owner award but he is unlikely to win the R85,000 race named after him at Turffontein. All the form points to MK’s Pride, who has been priced up 7-10 favourite.

Tierra Del Fuego, a six-time winning son of Skitt Skizzle, has his first run since being gelded in May. His comeback run will be closely monitored.

MK’s Pride boasts five wins from 12 starts including the 1,400m Hawaii Stakes in March. Express From The US finished a creditable third in that race but has since run unplaced in both the Jubilee Handicap and Durban July. The five-year-old has a tough task with a top weight of 62kg.

Sad to say Candice Dawson’s mare, Herstel, ran a shocker last weekend and her six-year-old Approach Control probably needs some help from the handicapper. Another female trainer, Dorrie Sham, saddles Bingwa and the gelding can place from his pole- position draw.

If MK’s Pride’s price is too short, perhaps the swinger with Full Mast could be the way to go. With 50kg on his back, the Azzie inmate will think he got loose, and he comfortably held Approach Control on their last meeting.

It is kind of ironic that the seventh race — the “Champion Trainer Paul Peter Stakes” — is likely to be won by Sean Tarry’s progressive three-year-old Under Your Spell. The daughter of Capetown Noir has won four of her five starts.

Another interesting runner from the Tarry yard is Marigold Hotel who takes on her elders for the first time in the final leg of the Pick Six. The filly enjoyed a successful first season which included a defeat of stablemate Rain In Holland, the Equus champion two-year-old filly.

Strada Statale — due to be sold at St John Gray’s stock-reduction sale on Tuesday — could pose a threat with Gavin Lerena riding the mare for the first time. Others in the mix are Little Rain, Fire Flower and Evening Rise.

• For those looking for a punt on Sunday, Yorkshire-trained sprinter Winter Power is worth an interest in the grade 1 Flying Five Stakes at the Curragh. The race is off at 3.55pm SA time.

SELECTIONS

1st Race: (8) Verolina (6) Back To Formentera (4) Stolen Kiss (2) Smelting

2nd Race: (1) Successful Ruler (3) Magic Number (2) Wildeye (5) Eights Enough

3rd Race: (2) Motown Magic (5) Equillo (3) Wave Warrior (8) Rosso Corsa

4th Race: (6) Kizzmekia (8) Mike’s Chick (2) Country Flame (7) Lady Fair

5th Race: (2) Theory Of Flight (4) Suited Connector (1) Sea Ways (3) Ballon D’Or

6th Race: (2) MK’s Pride (7) Full Mast (4) Bingwa (3) Tierra Del Fuego

7th Race: (4) Under Your Spell (8) Now You See Me (7) Anne Boleyn (1) Rouge Allure

8th Race: (2) Sweet And Spicy (5) Kokeshi (3) Pin Up (6) Lee Express

9th Race: (3) Marigold Hotel (2) Strada Statale (1) Little Rain (7) Evening Rise

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