All eyes on the speedy Gan­dalf

Daily Nation (Barbados) - - Front Page -

THERE WAS A BUZZ at the Gar­ri­son last Satur­day that made it clear some­thing big was hap­pen­ing.

And that it ma­te­ri­alised means great news for lo­cal horse rac­ing.

Be­fore the John B Simp­son Clas­sic Hand­i­cap over 1570 me­tres, there was talk about whether Derby win­ner Gan­dalf could take on the older horses for the first time and con­quer.

His main ri­val was the ir­re­press­ible front-run­ner In­frared which led the chase in the Sandy Lane Gold Cup for more than three-quar­ters of the nine fur­longs in the pre­mier event in March. To many, In­frared’s chal­lenge was hav­ing to give Gan­dalf 18 pounds in the weight for age hand­i­cap. The for­mer packed 128 pounds and the lat­ter 110 pounds.

Favourite

I felt it was 50-50. In­frared, sea­soned, tried and tested; Gan­dalf, pre­co­cious, speedy and com­pet­i­tive. Other pun­dits were more forthright as they in­stalled Gan­dalf as the favourite to win. I also felt the tac­tics of the re­spec­tive jock­eys would be cru­cial. The very ex­pe­ri­enced Rickey Wal­cott, who I think is the best lo­cally based reins­man and the very con­fi­dent, ex­cit­ing Rasheed Hughes were charged with mak­ing the right de­ci­sions spon­ta­neously de­spite what­ever in­struc­tions they may have had from the horses’ con­nec­tions.

That’s the na­ture of sports. Your game plan shouldn’t be writ­ten in stone. You should be pre­pared to make amendments de­pend­ing on the state of the game and how sit­u­a­tions un­fold at par­tic­u­lar phases of an en­counter. A bit of race luck and a jockey’s schol­ar­ship and choices can make a big dif­fer­ence in such cir­cum­stances.

And while it seemed a tad dis­re­spect­ful to other highly rated an­i­mals like Re­fire and Ce­les­tial Storm, the truth of the mat­ter is that pun­dits gen­er­ally saw it as a twohorse race, al­most like a match race.

Lofty ex­pec­ta­tion

Who’s to say that this lofty ex­pec­ta­tion didn’t in­crease the pres­sure on Wal­cott and Hughes and that it couldn’t in­ter­fere with their judge­ment? Af­ter all, pa­trons took to ev­ery van­tage point to see the out­come of the race. There hasn’t been that amount of hype at the Gar­ri­son since the Gold Cup.

The vi­tal play would be which of the lead­ing horses would break on top. Gan­dalf started with the ad­van­tage as he was drawn one. With his nat­u­ral speed he burst to the front but soon had In­frared close on his heels and the two fought the ex­pected duel for com­mand of the race.

Wal­cott, who al­ways had “a ton in hand”, never al­lowed his ri­val to take the lead. In fact, there were mo­ments when In­frared tried to go past but couldn’t get his nose in front. Even­tu­ally, he was forced “to spit out the bit” two fur­longs from home and the rest is his­tory.

What was very im­pres­sive about Gan­dalf’s tri­umph was how cool he was un­der pres­sure and how eas­ily he kicked on when Wal­cott asked him for the ef­fort. This horse seems to be some­thing spe­cial.

Nat­u­rally, we can spec­u­late about whether the re­sult would have been dif­fer­ent if the weights were closer but Gan­dalf’s com­po­sure was ex­cep­tional through­out the race. Suf­fice to say that the win­ner car­ried his al­lot­ment and In­frared his in ac­cor­dance with the race con­di­tions. So we can leave the weight dif­fer­en­tial de­bate for an­other time.

Star is born

What tran­spired Satur­day was a “star-is-born spec­ta­cle”. As al­luded to ear­lier, this makes it great for rac­ing. Peo­ple look for­ward to ri­val­ries in all sports. It is what lures us through the turn­stiles. Gan­dalf is now big box of­fice news as he threw down the gaunt­let im­pres­sively to all com­ers. I think he is bet­ter all-round than sta­ble­mate Brave Star, which is far from be­ing a pushover.

The talk af­ter the John B Simp­son Clas­sic Hand­i­cap was the likely clash be­tween Gan­dalf and the same field in the Vic­tor Chan­dler on the Box­ing Day card. His form is wel­come respite for the ab­sence of the mar­vel­lous North­ern Star, which is re­cu­per­at­ing from an op­er­a­tion to draw in­flam­ma­tion from his hoofs and will be out for the rest of this year.

Un­der­stand­ably, a Gan­dalfnorth­ern Star clash is now on the radar when the time is right. The com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor in this mat­ter is that they are both trained by the mag­nif­i­cent Vic­tor Cheese­man. I say no more. Oh, and should I add, ex­cited fans are al­ready ask­ing if Gan­dalf’s con­nec­tions will nom­i­nate him for next year’s Gold Cup?

It is a short four months away and I am sure it will be con­sid­ered, as he turns four and notwith­stand­ing that four-year-olds have a good record in the Gold Cup.

I re­mem­ber the same ques­tion was asked about North­ern Star a year ago but his own­ers, in­clud­ing Cheese­man who has a share in him, opted for an­other event on the big day to se­cure what looked to be a more guar­an­teed high-end pay­day. If it was a pure busi­ness de­ci­sion they were right. Gan­dalf’s own­ers will be faced with the same equa­tion, par­tic­u­larly if he slams the field in events like the Vic­tor Chan­dler and the Cool­more in com­ing months.

The Bar­ba­dos Turf Club may be frus­trated about the de­lay in start­ing night rac­ing be­cause of the ex­ces­sive du­ties it has to pay to im­port the lights but with a Gan­dalf in the fray, lit­tle at­ten­tion might be paid to that now, es­pe­cially among or­di­nary race fans who sim­ply like to see a cre­ole with the abil­ity and po­ten­tial to dom­i­nate.

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