On a Champions Day of mixed emotions for trainer Geoff Woodruff and SA’s leading owners Mayfair Speculators, 20 year old jockey Callan Murray owned the occasion with three superb Gr1 winners, at the same time confirming his status as one of the most talented youngsters to emerge from the SA Jockey Academy in the past decade.

Murray, who has only been a fully fledged rider for five months, rode his first Gr1 winner on Heavenly Blue in the SA Classic on 1 April. He added to that icebreaker with three more Gr1’s on Saturday.

Murray’s powerful and beautifully balanced ride to get Deo Juvente home to pip the red hot favourite Legal Eagle (also in the Mayfair Speculators silks) in the R4 million Gr1 Premier’s Champions Challenge, was top drawer stuff on our most competitive horseracing stage.

The Trippi gelding Deo Juvente had given the then apprentice Murray his first Gr2 success when registering his last victory a long time ago – in the Victory Moon Stakes at the same venue in November 2015. And while his success on Saturday was not a popular one for the punting public, it was an emotional moment for those involved.

Trainer Geoff Woodruff dedicated the win to his Mom who had passed away peacefully the previous evening.

Owners Mayfair Speculators had to experience the ‘disappointment’ of seeing one of their lesser lights beat one of the greatest horses to carry their famous silks. But that’s racing.

Legal Eagle was looking to equal the 1967 feat of the legendary Sea Cottage  by defending his third Gr1 title in a season, and was a confident choice in most quarters after his brilliant Horse Chestnut Stakes success on 1 April.

The 5yo son of Greys Inn didn’t have things easy though.

Kept out wide as Stonehenge led Celtic Captain and Brazuca early, he was some way off the gallop turning for home.

Deo Juvente, who had been given a quiet ride at the back, took off at the same time at the 600m marker and behind Legal Eagle.

In a run for the wire, Craig Zackey produced Nother Russia with a  big effort as Marcus got serious on Legal Eagle wide out.

With Deo Juvente the ham on the sandwich, Legal Eagle drifted inwards as Nother Russia dug deep.

In a thrilling finish,  Murray stuck Deo Juvente’s head down at the line to gain a head win over Legal Eagle in a time of 124,66 secs.

Nother Russia ran a gutsy race a neck back in third.

The Avontuur sponsored Callan Murray admitted that ‘words can’t describe my day’.

“I woke up at 4h30 this morning – I couldn’t sleep – I had a gut feel about this afternoon. It’s a special victory as Deo Jevente was my first Gr2 winner. I worked him recently and he felt good. Thanks to Mayfair Speculators for all the chances they give me in the Eastern Cape and here. I’m very fortunate. And then the whole Woodruff team – they do a great job,” added Murray.

An emotional trainer Geoff Woodruff  paid tribute to his Mom who passed away the previous evening.

“I’d like to dedicate this win to her,” he said, adding that Callan had come and ridden Deo Juvente a lot.

“We didn’t really think we had a shout against Legal Eagle but we felt we could perhaps crack it over 2000m. I feel Legal Eagle is at his brilliant best over a mile, if I may say so,” he said politely.

Woodruff is on record in an earlier interview about Deo Juvente, which has proven quite prophetic.

“He was one of our picks that year. He was a little long in the back and he’s not got a great action because of it, but he’s very very fast.  I think he’ll have his day.  He’s a big strong horse and I think he’ll carry weight.  He’s also got a terrific character – he’ll snap and lay his teeth and ears back at you, but if you go up to talk to him, he’ll put his ears forward.  He’s a funny horse, like one of those grumpy people that you get to know who turn out to be quite nice.  He’s a really honest, reliable horse.”

A winner of 5 races with 12 places from 21 starts, Deo Juvente has earned a healthy return of R3 572 050 on his R500 000 price tag at the 2013 Emperors Palace National Yearling Sale.

He was bred by Northfields Stud and is by champion Trippi out of the outstanding ten-time winning Complete Warrior mare, Circle Of Life – a top class Gr1 winner  who won in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

That’s it for the Highveld Season – we now head for the coast and the SA Champions Season.