By Sarah Whitelaw
Martial Eagle caused an 75-1 upset in landing Cape Town's premier race, the J&B Met (SAf-1) at Kenilworth Racecourse on Feb. 2.
Favorite for the prestigious 10-furlong Cape event worth US$279,212 was last season's Investec Cape Derby (SAf-I) winner Jackson, who headed the betting at 8-5 ahead of Gauteng raider Pomodoro (3-1) and the race's sole female competitor, Beach Beauty (7-1).
The 7-year-old gelding Martial Eagle, who was coming into the 2,000-meter (about 1 1/4 miles) race off a fourth-place finish in the L'Ormarins Queen's Plate (SAf-I), was sent off as one of the 15-horse field's longest shots.
Drawn wide out at post 14, Martial Eagle was untried at the distance, and pundits had doubts concerning his ability both to see the trip and to overcome a wide draw.
In the early stages of the race, last year's Vodacom Durban July (SAf-I) winner Pomodoro set a slow early pace ahead of Hill Fifty Four and Martial Eagle, with Jackson settled well off the lead. In the home straight Pomodoro was still in front, but Martial Eagle was traveling ominously well, and he hit the front with 250 meters to go.
However, the Yogas Govender-trained gelding was joined in front by the vastly improved gelding Hill Fifty Four, who came up along Martial Eagle's inside. The two duly fought out a titanic battle over the final 200 meters, with Martial Eagle prevailing in a thrilling finish to win by a long neck. Fancied mare Beach Beauty ran back in third, beaten a length and a half, ahead of Pomodoro and the disappointing Jackson.
Govender was scoring the biggest win off his career, and was understandably thrilled. "This is the best horse I have trained," he said. "I am delighted to have won this race, and I have to thank my whole team, especially Mrs. (Sabine) Plattner. It is an honor to win this for her. Well done to my whole team, and everyone involved with this horse."
For jockey Aldo Domeyer it was a highly emotional triumph, as he too was scoring the biggest win of his career. The son of former top Cape jockey Andrew Fortune punched the air shortly after his mount passed the line, and he was all but speechless after the race.
It was a second win in the race for successful owner Plattner, whose Angus (trained by Brett Crawford) won the Met back in 2003.
Martial Eagle, who was bred by Mary Slack's Wilgerbosdrift Stud, was a R300,000 (US$3,350) buy at the 2007 Emperors Palace National Yearling Sale.
The 2013 J&B Met winner is a son of leading South Africa sire Silvano (Lomitas) and is his sire's first Met winner. Silvano's earlier top South African progeny include champions Kings Gambit and Bold Silvano. Martial Eagle is his sire's eighth group I winner to date.
Saturday's big race winner is out of the Jallad mare Seeking The Wind, a five-time winner, who was placed in the group III Southern Cross Stakes.
Martial Eagle is likely to be aimed at some of the bigger races run in the KZN winter season, including the 2013 Vodacom Durban July Handicap.
Now an eight-time winner, Martial Eagle has stamped himself as one of the country's top open handicappers, and a force to be reckoned with in South Africa's major to-level contests.
In Saturday's other group I features, favorite Capetown Noir (Western Winter) ran out a game winner of the Investec Cape Derby, run over the same 2,000-meter distance as the Met. Giant's Causeway filly Blueridge Mountain overcame a shocking draw to beat a high-class field of females to land the Klawervlei Majorca Stakes.