By Sarah Whitelaw
There was a thrilling and controversial finish to the South Africa Classic (SAf-I) at Turffontein March 30.
Favored Tellina and 22-1 outsider Love Struck fought out a desperate finish in the race, with Love Struck prevailing by the shortest of heads in the 1,800-meter (about 1 1/8 miles) contest for 3-year-olds. It was another 2 1/4 lengths back to third-place finisher Gitiano, with War Horse in fourth by a neck.
The controversy started shortly after the horses pulled up when jockey Robbie Fradd, rider of Tellina, lodged an objection on the grounds that winning jock Sean Cormack hit Tellina on the head during the closing stages of the race.
The objection was later overruled and the result allowed to stand.
The SA Classic, second leg of the SASCOC Triple Crown, appeared an open race with a number of contenders looking likely candidates. Tellina, winner of the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Gauteng Guineas (SAf-II), was eventually sent off the 16-10 favorite in the 16-horse field ahead of Guineas runner-up War Horse and the promising Gitiano.
Love Struck, who had a busy campaign prior to the March 30 win, was always well-positioned by Cormack and kicked for home at the 400-meter mark with Tellina making a strong run from well off the pace. With 200 meters to go, it looked like Love Struck would hold on easily, but Tellina produced a flying turn of foot and made up ground hand over fist.
At the line, there was almost nothing separating the two, and it took several minutes for the judges to post Love Struck as the official winner.
Group I-placed at 2 for The Fire Racing Trust, Mr. J. Moodley and Ms. L. Salsone, Love Struck had previously won minor features in both KZN and Cape Town before being sent to Gauteng to score his biggest career win to date. The gelding has now won five races and four of seven starts this season.
He also gave veteran trainer Paul Lafferty, a noted television personality in South Africa, his first group I success. Lafferty was in Dubai and thus was unable to saddle Love Struck in the big race.
Bred by Summerhill Stud (perennially South Africa’s champion breeders), Love Struck is the sixth group I winner sired by Machiavellian’s son Kahal. He is out of Particular Passion, a stakes-placed daughter of Rambo Dancer, and was a 260,000 Rand purchase at the 2011 Emperors Palace National Yearling Sale.
While Tellina’s defeat means there will be no male Triple Crown victor in South Africa this year, star filly Cherry On The Top stamped herself as a legitimate contender for the Wilgerbosdrift Triple Crown with a sparkling display in the South Africa Fillies Classic (SAf-I).
Cherry On The Top, who was coming into the race off a facile win in the first leg of the Triple Tiara (the Gauteng Fillies Guineas), was described by veteran trainer Ormond Ferraris prior to the March 30 race as one of the best fillies he had trained in a long and successful career.
Sent out favored for the 1,800-meter (about 1 1/8 miles) event, the Bridget Oppenheimer homebred always dominated her rivals. Ridden by Nooresh Juglall, Cherry On The Top was always travelling smoothly, a few lengths off the frontrunning Cat’s Paw.
Coming to the top of the straight, Juglall asked his mount to quicken and she pulled away effortlessly. From there it was no contest, with Cherry On The Top’s eventual winning margin standing at 5 1/4 lengths. Finishing second was Do You Remember, who had previously been runner up to the same filly in the Gauteng Fillies Guineas. She was 1 3/4 lengths clear of third-place finisher Jet Belle.
Winning jockey Nooresh Juglall was overwhelmed after the race, commenting, “Thank God for this win! This is one of the best I have ever ridden, and thanks to the connections for letting me ride this filly.”
It was a first group I win for Juglall, whose previous top win had come in the Emerald Cup (SAf-II) and the seventh victory from 10 outings for the nearly black filly, who has collected over 1,000,000 Rand in prize money.
Cherry On The Top’s wins in the first two legs of the Triple Tiara—the May 11 SA Oaks is the series’ final leg—puts her in line for a 1,000 0000 Rand bonus should she win the Oaks. The only filly to win this series thus far was subsequent Horse of the Year Igugu.
A daughter of Wilgerbosdrift’s successful stallion Tiger Ridge, Cherry On The Top is out of the Gold Circle Oaks (SAf-II) winner Carolina Cherry. It was a tremendous day for Carolina Cherry as another daughter, Cherry On The Cake, had earlier won the Jacaranda Handicap (SAf-III).