By Sarah Whitelaw
Outsider Elusive Gold scored a 28-1 shock when upsetting a star-studded field by a head Dec. 21 in the Grand Premier Cape Guineas (SAf-I) at Kenilworth.
The colt, who had won his last two starts in much weaker company, provided trainer Brett Crawford with his first victory in the Cape’s premier classic for 3-year-olds. Crawford also sent out runner up and race favorite, Captain America.
The 1,600-meter test (about one mile) was seen as a rematch between Captain America, a 2-1 pick, and Red Ray, sent out at 5-1, first and second in the recent Lanzerac Ready To Run Stakes.
Other fancied contenders included last season’s grade I-winning juvenile Forest Indigo, as well as Whistle Stop. The latter, a son of champion sire Silvano, hailed from the barn of champion trainer Mike de Kock, who was bidding to win the Guineas for the fourth time.
Elusive Gold came into the Cape Guineas with the lowest "merit rating" in the 15-horse field. His rating of 79 was 25 pounds behind top-rated Forest Indigo and Red Ray, both of whom had an official rating of 104. The colt, whom on course presenters described as looking "spectacular" before the race, had few admirers with his price drifting out from 25-1 to 28-1.
The 15-horse field had a fair beginning with only outsider Top Jet slow to go,. Red Ray and Captain America were both prominent early on as outsider Strongman overcame a wide berth to take the lead. The race’s eventual winner, Elusive Gold, raced toward the back of the field, with only a few horses behind him in the early stages.
Turning into the home stretch, both Captain America and Red Ray moved ominously well and quickly disposed of Strongman, who eventually dropped out to finish 11th. Captain America and Red Ray settled down to fight out a thrilling duel over the final 200 meters, with neither colt willing to back down.
Captain America finally headed his gallant rival in the final 100 meters only to be collared by stablemate in the final few strides. The winner, partnered by Bernard Fayd’Herbe, produced a fine finish, closing hand over fist to deny Captain America victory.
It was another three parts of a length away to the third placed finisher, Red Ray. Fourth was Forest Indigo, who put up a creditable showing after suffering a wide trip throughout much of the race. The son of Judpot was beaten just 1 1/4 lengths.
Fayd’Herbe, who won the Cape Guineas in 2010, was ecstatic after his victory in the 1 million Rand race ($95,536 in U.S. funds).
"He jumped and showed no gate speed, which worried me," the jockey said. "However, after tracking Kevin (Shea on Forest Indigo) I really got into him, and he (Elusive Gold) responded well. He is still a big baby and they are going to win plenty of big races with him yet."
Crawford was over the moon after his 1-2 finish in South Africa's major classic, commenting, "It is phenomenal for the yard! While it was not easy for Captain America, I always thought Elusive Gold was a smart horse in his own right. To win the Guineas is a big thing for a trainer."
Elusive Gold, whose owner, businessman David Hui, lives in Hong Kong, looks set to face a future Hong Kong campaign. More immediately, however, the colt may bid to win the only other grade I Cape classic, the Investec Cape Derby.
Bred by the Ascot Stud, Elusive Gold is from the first crop of sire Sail From Seattle. A stakes-winning son of Gone West, Sail From Seattle’s dam is a half-sister to champion U.S. sire Smart Strike .
Eluisve Gold is out of the Al Mufti mare Circle Of Gold. He is the third stakes winner for his winning dam, who has also produced grade III winners Rich Strike and Avenue Of Gold. The Guineas winner's second dam, Captivation, was South Africa’s Broodmare of the Year in 1986.
Elusive Gold, who was an 425,000 Rand ($40,603) buy at the 2012 Emperors Palace National Yearling Sale, has now won three of his five outings, and looks set to establish himself as one of the country’s top 3-year-olds. In winning the Cape Guineas, Elusive Gold joined an honor roll that includes subsequent champions Variety Club, Horse Chestnut, Jet Master, and Empress Club. All were later named South Africa’s Horse of the Year.