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ABASHIRI’s legion of supporters gasped for breath as the three-year-old rallied gamely to hold off Rocketball in a nail-biting finish to the R2-million SA Derby over 2450m at Turffontein on Champions Day on Saturday.

In the process the Go Deputy colt became only the third horse in history to win the SA Triple Crown after Horse Chestnut and Louis The King.

Abashiri’s owner Adriaan van Vuuren had promised an amazing atmosphere at Turffontein and he delivered with hundreds of fans in orange tee-shirts whistling and cheering as the star three-year-old came entered the parade ring.

Abashiri strutted around as though he knew they were all there for him and nearly dumped jockey Karl Zechner going through the gate onto the course proper for the canter down. Once on the track, the 1-6 favourite broke into an easy canter and looked a picture on his way to the start.

Trainer Mike Azzie had wanted Karl Zechner and Abashiri to follow stablemate Scheme Of Things through in the early stages, but instead they found themselves stone last as Premier Chance led initially.

Rocketball hit the front in the centre racing into the final 400m but Abashiri, who had been brought to the outside, was closing fast and tagged his rival at the 400m pole with Jubilee Line, Stebbins and Premier Chance on their heels.

Abashiri quickly took over but any thoughts of a comfortable victory flew out the window 200m out. Abashiri began to labour as Rocketball fought back gamely and his goose looked cooked about 100m from home.

But the favourite’s class and courage shone when it mattered most and he showed his grit in the final stages, holding off his rival off by a long head with Samurai Blade running on for third, another 0.70 lengths back. Stebbins 1.10 length further back in fourth. The others were led home by Jubilee Line, who finished 6.25 lengths behind the winner.

Zechner was exhausted immediately after the race, but said a few minutes later: “It’s been a long preparation for these three legs and it hasn’t been easy. Mr Azzie has prepped this horse magnificently. Even though he got there too early he fought the other horse off. He’s a champion.”

Azzie was near tears in the post-race interview and thanked a host of people, notably owners Adriaan and Rika van Vuuren, before reciting a poem in tribute to Abashiri: “We went to the Guineas and they said he couldn’t win the mile. He did that with grace and style. Then came the Classic and what he did there was Jurassic. Today was the Derby and I wanted him to leave them wobbly, but he didn’t. Now maybe for the July and let’s hope he can fly!”

-extracts from