Markus and Ingrid Jooste's Legal Eagle silenced doubters when he cut back in distance to win the one-mile L'Ormarins Queen's Plate (SAf-I) Jan. 9 at Kenilworth.
The victor in last season's SA Derby (SAf-I) at about 1 1/2 miles, the 4-year-old was expected to find Saturday's R1 million race on the short side, but South Africa's highest-rated Thoroughbred showed his class with a professional display.
The Queen's Plate is part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge series and Legal Eagle earned a starting berth in the 2016 Breeders Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park later in the year.
The colt, who hails from the yard of reigning champion trainer Sean Tarry, was expected to face tough opposition in the Queen's Plate from both last year's winner, 15-10 favorite Futura, and the latter's stablemate Legislate.
Bouclette Top, a 50-1 shot, made the lead from post 13 and the front-runner led into the straight when Legal Eagle ran on nicely down the inside to hit the front, with Legislate a threat and a very game Noah From Goa also in the fray. Captain America was another running on strongly, however it was Legal Eagle, well ridden by Anton Marcus, who hit the front at the right time and drew off in the closing stages to record a convincing 1 1/2-length win over Legislate. Noah From Goa finished third and Captain America, who closed on from the back of the field, came in fourth.
Futura finished fifth, beaten nearly four lengths. It was the first time in 17 outings that Futura, last season's Horse of the Year and a four-time group winner, finished out of the first four.
Marcus, originally set to ride eventual sixth-place finisher Act Of War, made a shrewd decision to partner with fellow Jooste-owned Legal Eagle instead. The veteran jockey last won the race in 2013 aboard dual Horse of the Year Variety Club.
It was a first win in the race for trainer Sean Tarry, who said after the race, "Anton rode a great race and I was pleased to see we got the cover. The game plan changed a few times. The five-month break from racing has done him well."
The winner stopped the clock in 1:39.23 and should be hard to oppose in the R2.5 million J&B Met (SAf-I) Jan. 30 at Kenilworth.
The Avontuur-bred Legal Eagle has now won five of nine outings and has earned more than R2.297 million, a fine return on his R425,000 yearling purchase price.
Legal Eagle, who won his fourth graded/listed race Saturday, is a son of Greys Inn (by Zabeel) and the six-time winning National Emblem mare Young Sensation. The latter, like her son, was trained by Tarry.
Favorites were also downed in the day's supporting group I feature, where 33-10 shot Smart Call prevailed in the Maine Chance Farms Paddock Stakes at 1 1/8 miles.
The Alec Laird-trained filly beat last year's winner Inara into second place, with promising 3-year-old Bela-Bela beaten three lengths into third, ahead of multiple group I winner and favorite Same Jurisdiction.
Smart Call, who races for her breeders Mauritzfontein Stud, has links to Legal Eagle—the latter's sire Greys Inn is a half brother to Smart Call's dam Good Judgement (by Horse Chestnut).
The first group I winner for her sire Ideal World when winning last season's Woolavington 2000, Smart Call's victory Saturday pushed her earnings to nearly R2 million.