For traditionalists the thought of not running the 2400m Zimbabwe Derby (GR 3), third leg of the Triple Crown, is too awful to contemplate. Unfortunately racing’s powers-that-be don’t feel the same way – these days it is all about numbers. In 2013 and 2014 the fate of the Zim Derby hung in the balance but tradition triumphed eventually.
Thirteen runners were nominated for the 2015 event, worth US$9 000, and, thankfully, at the Final Acceptance stage eight horses stood their ground. None of the three-year-olds cantering down to the start at Borrowdale Park on Sunday are making a bid for the Triple Crown, but the field includes Merhaba, winner of the Bloodstock South Africa 2000, second leg of the Zimbabwe Triple Crown. Mica Point and Tallie Two, second and third to Merhaba that day, have also picked up the gauntlet.
Merhaba, with his Bloodstock win behind him, is obviously the horse the rest have to beat, and Gokhan Terzi has also entered River Waltz, a winner over 2000m on March 22. He expects both these horses to be competitive on Sunday. Stable jockey Apprentice Wesley Marwing once again has the ride on Merhaba and Gokhan says, “This horse keeps on improving and has been waiting for this 2400m distance. We aimed the Derby for Merhaba about six months ago and so far everything has come to plan. I am hoping he will win on Sunday.”
River Waltz shed his maiden certificate over 2000m last time out, beating Jannie Blignaut’s runner, Spanish Matador, by two lengths. Terzi says River Waltz has “also been crying out for more distance”. He believes this colt, by The Sheik, is also improving and “deserves a place chance on Sunday.” Chase Maujean will be in the irons.
Bridget Stidolph’s charge, Mica Point, surprised me when keeping up with the field and finishing a fairly close second to Merhaba in the Bloodstock 2000. This time I am certainly not going to suggest he won’t see out the Derby trip. Bridget, ever cautious, says, “ He has a good draw, and has been working well. Never been 2400m yet but seemed to cope with the 2000m last time.”
None of Sunday’s runners have gone beyond 2000m – the price paid for a racing programme which mainly caters for sprinting and middle distance horses.
However, Assistant Trainer Penny Fisher, who will be acting for her daughter Alyson Wright, has no doubts about Tallie Two’s ability over more ground, but adds “It will depend on the pace, of course”. Tallie Two was 1.75 lengths behind Merhaba in the Bloodstock 2000, coming with her usual late charge within the shadow of the post. Apprentice Callan Murray gets the ride.
The Corne Spies yard sends out Second Light, Holderstebolder and Lincoln Can and, judging by past performances, Second Light could well be the pace-setter here. The Second Empire (IRE) filly won a 1700m Maiden Plate on February 22. At the last Borrowdale meeting she ran second to Diversify over 2000m, finishing 8 lengths off the winner.
Neither Holderstebolder nor Lincoln Can have shown much to date but Lincoln Can is out of a Fort Wood mare so might appreciate a longer trip. Fanie Chambers rides Lincoln Can, Francois Naude will be aboard Second Light, and Daniel Frank will be on Holderstebolder.
In 2013 Gokhan Terzi won the Derby with Fashion Police, and the Lisa Harris yard’s Demitasse romped home in 2014. Only eight runners went to the post on both occasions but these were good races nevertheless.
There is no doubt in my mind that the 2015 Derby will once again live up to expectations and, best of all, Zimbabwe is still hanging in there as far as the Three-Year-old Classics are concerned.
Hats off to all the owners and trainers who have continued to make this possible.