By Sarah Whitelaw
South Africa's Beach Beauty, winner of the Maine Chance Farms Paddock Stakes (SAf-I) and Capetown Noir, who captured the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate (SAf-I) at Kenilworth Jan. 11, became the first two horses to earn automatic starting positions in the 2014 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park.
The starting berths for the Oct. 31-Nov. 1 event were earned through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, with the winners qualifying for paid entry fees. Capetown Noir secured a spot in the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT), while the mare Beach Beauty earned a date in the Breeders' Cup filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT).
Capetown Noir gave leading Cape trainer Dean Kannemeyer his third win in the $1 million rand ($92,901 in U.S. funds) Queen’s Plate. The Queen’s Plate has long been a stamping ground for some of South Africa’s greatest horses, and has been won previously by such stars as Sea Cottage, Politician, Wolf Power, Empress Club, Jet Master, Pocket Power, and Variety Club.
Winner of both of last season’s Cape classics (Cape Premier Yearling Sales Guineas, Investec Cape Derby), Capetown Noir had a proven affinity for the Kenilworth track, having won three of his five previous outings at Cape Town’s premier racetrack. However, the handsome 4-year-old bay colt lost many supporters after a disappointing fifth-place finish at his previous outing when beaten 2 1/2 by stable Ice Machine in the Green Point Stakes (SAf-II).
Last year’s Queen’s Plate runner up, Jackson, was sent out a solidly supported even-money favorite for what is widely regarded as South Africa’s premier weight-for-age event at one mile. There was also plenty of support for star 3-year-old Red Ray (11-2), while the eventual winner was a well-backed 5-1 shot. Capetown Noir was one of two runners saddled by Kannemeyer, who also saddled also-ran Ice Machine.
No Worries, a 33-1 outsider, jumped well and quickly went to the lead under champion jocke, Pierre Strydom. Jackson, who pulled in the early stages, was well-placed while running just off the early pace at the rail behind No Worries, Lake Arthur, and Royal Zulu Warrior. Capetown Noir raced a few lengths off the pace during the first half of the race.
The order remained the same coming to the 400-meter mark, when Karl Neisius asked Capetown Noir to quicken. The colt did so, and quickly hit the front while running on powerfully up the inside, having benefited from a perfect ground-saving rail trip throughout the race.
Capetown Noir ran on strongly as Jackson tried gamely to cut back the deficit. But he was no match for the winner, and settled for second in the Queen’s Plate for the second year in a row. The eventual winning margin was a convincing 1 1/4 lengths, with the Justin Snaith-trained Jet Explorer putting up a tremendous run to fly up from last place to snatch third place from No Worries.
Neisius was winning the Queen’s Plate for the first time since 2002 when partnering Free My Heart to victory. The veteran Cape-based rider was ecstatic after the race, punching the air in triumph after his mount passed the line.
In a post-race interview, Neisius said he felt Capetown Noir had established himself as South Africa’s top miler, and that he is a great horse. He told Racing Post: "I was always confident, I got exactly where I wanted to be and in the straight I kept my eye on Jackson. I quickened past him and everything worked out perfectly."
Kannemeyer echoed his rider’s sentiments, adding that Capetown Noir clearly relished the Kenilworth course and that it was a great win.
Saturday’s impressive winner is owned by Lady Christine Laidlaw’s Khaya Stables, and was bred by the Lammerskraal Stud. A breathtaking individual to look at, Capetown Noir was one of the pre-race paddock picks.
A 1 million rand purchase at the 2011 Emperors Palace National Yearling Sale when sold under the name of Custodian, Capetown Noir has the pedigree to match his imposing physique. He is a son of ill-fated triple champion sire Western Winter (Gone West), whose progeny have now won the Queen’s Plate on four occasions.
Capetown Noir is out of the UAE One Thousand Guineas third Akinfeet (Fort Wood), who was named South Africa’s Equus Broodmare of the Year last season. Akinfeet is currently in foal to former champion sprinter What A Winter (Western Winter).
A full brother to August Stakes (SAf-III) winner Across The Ice, Capetown Noir’s second dam, Dance Every Dance, won the Cape Fillies Guineas (SAf-II).
The colt has now won eight of his 14 outings, and more than 2 million rand ($185,802) in prize money.
Capetown Noir is likely now to run in Cape Town’s most famous race, the J&B Met (SAf-I) Feb. 1, where he will once again do battle with both Jackson and Jet Explorer.
The same card also saw last season’s Equus champion older female Beach Beauty defend her crown in the nine-furlong Paddock Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths over In the Fast Lane. The diminutive daughter of local Horse of the Year Dynasty was the firm firm favorite with punters, and plenty of cheers rang out over Kenilworth when the 6-year-old mare strode clear to win the top-level event for a second year in a row.
Beach Beauty, trained by visiting trainer Dennis Drier for owners the Shank Syndicate, was given a fine ride by jockey Sean Cormack as she defeated 13 opponents. Cormack has built up a fantastic relationship with the mare, having partnered her in her last 13 outings.
Beach Beauty has now won 14 races, of which nine were in feature races.