For only the third time, the International team handed the South Africans a crushing blow when winning the Air Mauritius International Jockeys’ Challenge (IJC). Irish jockey PJ Mcdonald took individual honours with two winners and a third.
For newcomers to the track the visitors’ tactics were exceptional and they conceded only two wins in the six-legged competition. They won the IJC by 331 points to South Africa’s 290. Mcdonald scored 86 points, with apprentice Lyle Hewitson not missing a dance and doing best of the local riders in the individual challenge with 74 points.
Mcdonald drew first blood, although co-favourite Secret Potion did not give him an armchair ride in the first challenge race. The Geoff Woodruff-trained horse was fourth last as Diva Faustina (Hewitson) and Pokemon Shuffle (France’s Thierry Thulliez) led from Tigerlace (Craig Zackey) and Satin Rock (Martin Dwyer). Mcdonald was walled in halfway down the straight as Tigerlace moved into the lead, but he edged his mount outwards and, once she was in the clear, she burst into action. She swept up to put her nose in front on the line. Tigerlace was second with Diva Faustina third.
Mcdonald said afterwards: “Geoff explained to me that she might be a little bit behind the bridle and a little bit dreamy, and she rode exactly how he said. Whatever little thing she has, she made up for it in attitude. She really wanted to win as much as I did. She more outstayed them than quickened up. She was very strong to the line.”
The International team filled four of the first six places and took the lead with 58 points to 49.
Majestic Mambo looks like quite a racehorse after winning his debut under Thulliez in the 1800m Maiden Plate. He was near the back after a slow start and took a while to warm up to his task, but once the penny dropped there was no stopping the Mambo In Seattle colt. Paul Peter’s runner started making progress shortly after the runners turned for home and ate up the ground to lead 200m from the wire and win going away.
Australian Corey Brown on Gary Alexander-trained Royal Resolution tried to steal a march on the field, but had no answer to the finishing kick of the first-timer and had to settle for second, a whopping 5.50 lengths back, only a head in front of Seamie Heffernan on Harington Port. The first local rider past the post was Gavin Lerena on Flexible Fugitive, who ran on nicely for fourth.
Thulliez said: “I love the South African people and hope to come next year. As for my horse, I couldn’t make a good start because he didn’t want to stand. The race was very fast and in the last 300m he kicked well and won easy.”
Peter was expecting a massive run from Majestic Mambo, who was coltish in the ring, and said: “He shows us such good work at home and he’s not coltish whatsoever. At the back he was standing with five legs – the vet told us to saddle him in a closed box cos this horse is crazy! I think it was also a bit of nervousness. I was disappointed at his behaviour, so I got a bit put off, but he overcame it all and produced the run we were expecting.”
The International team scored 69 points to South Africa’s 31 and took a 47-point lead in the competition.
The International team outrode the locals yet again in the third Challenge race, this time taking the first four places in the MR 73 Handicap over 3000m in one of the most exciting finishes of the day.
Smullen had Dromedaris in second on the rail as Brown set the fractions on Sess with Reminiscence (Thulliez) third and Ali Bon Dubai (Dwyer) disputing fourth place with King’s Drive (Heffernan). The initial pace was slow, but Brown quickened it up in the back straight and the first three broke away by a few lengths with Ali Bon Dubai leading the chasing pack in fourth.
Sess continued to lead but Dromedaris started closing him down and Ali Bon Dubai quickened well to join issue with the first two. They went neck and neck for the wire with Dromedaris getting the verdict by a long head from Ali Bon Dubai, with Sess another neck back in third. Fourth place, 4.25 lengths further back, went to King’s Drive.
Smullen, the international team’s captain, said: “Things are going well. We’ve made a good start and hopefully we can continue it through to the end of the competition. All the boys are trying very hard. You could see in that finish there we all wanted success. Thankfully my horse just wanted it more.”
Winning trainer Robbie Sage said: “This horse has proved himself a bit of a stayer. Wonderful ride by Pat.”
The International team scored another 73 points to take their tally to 200, while South Africa broke the century mark with 107.
South African pride was on the line halfway through the competition and they pulled a few points back in the fourth leg when Lerena brought Snowdonia (13-1) from the back to get up on the line and beat Costa Da Sol and S’manga Khumalo by a neck. Sea Bean (Brown) was always in the fray up front and finished another 0.50 lengths back in third with Greg Cheyne and Pennington Sands finishing not far behind in fourth. Favourite Sabina’s Dynasty was always midfield under SA captain Anthony Delpech.
Lerena said: “I rode her two starts ago in very wet conditions. We changed the bit and put a tongue tie on her and it seems to have done the job.”
Peter, whose stable is in hot form, said: “To be honest, I thought Sabina’s Dynasty was the better of the two, but the race didn’t really go according to plan for her. But she’ll be back another day.
“Snowdonia won a good race; Gavin rode an excellent race. The horses seem to be healthy and doing their best. Long may it last!”
The International team still led in the competition by 228 to 179.
Mcdonald struck back for the International team by taking the fifth challenge race aboard David Nieuwenhuizen-trained Monarch Air, bringing his mount from midfield to win by 0.50 lengths from Hewitson on favourite Rose Water and Cheyne on Sammi Moosa.
Zackey tried to steal a march on the field on Kapenta Bay, leading by more than a handful of lengths at one stage, but his tactics blew up as his mount ran out of steam halfway down the straight and they finished second last.
The first three squeezed through on the inside of the pacemaker when she faded, with Monarch Air slightly ahead of Rose Water on her outside and Sammi Moosa on the inside and that’s the way they stayed, with the winner prevailing by 0.50 lengths and a long neck. Flowing Gown (Delpech) was just over two lengths back in fourth.
It would have taken a miracle for South Africa to win after that and, although apprentice Lyle Hewitson tried to give his team just that in the final Challenge race, the Internationals had it wrapped, going into the final race with 281 points to South Africa’s 226.
Hewitson rode a brilliant front-running race on lightly weighted Bubbly Reply, who held off Captain Chips, brought on the scene too late by Dwyer.