Smart Call hammered a top field to win the Gr1 J&B Met over 2000m at Kenilworth on Saturday.
Trainer Alec Laird has long rated Smart Call, a daughter of Ideal World and a grand-daughter of the great Horse Chestnut, very highly. But he has kept her racing in female company – where she has won six times from 15 starts, with two Grade 1 trophies.
As impressive as her Paddock Stakes victory was three weeks ago, many a pundit was doubtful she could match male titans such as Legal Eagle, Legislate and Futura. She did a lot more than match them on Saturday, though, cruising to a facile 3.50-length triumph in Cape Town’s premier horse race, one of South Africa’s three “majors”.
An emotional Laird said: “This is a wonderful moment; beyond my expectations. We were hoping to win, but never expected it to be as easy as that!”
It was a chance ride for jockey JP van der Merwe, with Smart Call’s regular pilot Weichong Marwing unable to get aboard due to a back injury.
Van der Merwe said it was “by far” the biggest moment of his young career. He only knew he would be riding the filly when his flight from Joburg touched down in Cape Town at 9am on Saturday and the magic message appeared on his phone.
He has never ridden Smart Call in competition but has partnered her frequently in training and knows all about her talent.
From the No 8 gate, Van der Merwe quickly steered the four-year-old across to tuck in behind the early pace set by Legislate and favourite Legal Eagle.
“I just sat behind Legal Eagle. Then, with 300m to go, I pulled her out and she showed them what she’s made of,” said the rider.
Legal Eagle under Anton Marcus looked momentarily as if he would reproduce his dominating performance of earlier in the month in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate. But that was short-lived as the famous Mauritzfontein black and yellow silks swooped by and left him floundering. Smart Call started at 8-1.
Legal Eagle (16-10) stayed on to claim second place, a length ahead of Captain America (8-1), who edged Light The Lights (40-1) into fourth.
Owner nominee of Mauritzfontein Stud Jessica Slack exclaimed that the win was “the best thing ever” and she was reminded of her grandmother, the late Bridget Oppenheimer, who bred Smart Call and sent her to be trained by Laird. “She’d be delighted by this!”
The winner of the R2.5-million J&B Met qualifies for entry into a race at the Breeders’ Cup meeting in the US.