Thursday 1st May 2014
19th and 20th horse-racing meetings 2014 – 1st May and 4th May

by Magnat

After last Sunday’s most successful Tazza l-Kbira meeting, another two meetings await us this week, first on Thursday 1st May (Workers’ Day public holiday) and then on Sunday 4th May.  Both meetings start at 1.45pm and each comprises eight trot races and a flat race.

Although the Bank of Valletta Tazza l-Kbira has now been successfully concluded, the next meetings still contain a number of attractive features including:

(i) two Premier class races – one in each meeting;

(ii) the start of the San Frangisk Cup championship for Copper class trotters;

(iii)  three Gold class races spread across these two meetings;

(iv) a flat race in each meeting.

 But let’s start in order.

The trot races are over the sprint 1,640m distance, except for the San Frangisk Cup championship which will be run on the slightly longer (but still short) 2,140m distance.

Thursday’s Premier class race comprises 12 participants, including in-form horses such as Zandina Boshoeve coming from a win in its last race, Assikura (Gold class) championship winner Phenix de la Roque and Made In Hoff which were both runners-up in recent weeks, Utah Hornline which placed well in the last couple of weeks and all the other valid horses.

Sunday’s Premier class race unites horses having a higher number of handicap points in this class.  These include recent winner Zalgado Transs R, Petunia du Pont, Prieure’ and Tap Dance each of which was runner-up in its penultimate race, True Q which placed in two of its last three races, last December’s Equestrian Festival winner on the same distance Absolut Spender, last year’s President’s Cup winner Gently di Poggio, recent newcomers Jos Cortina and Precieux Perrine, German 10 year old gelding Isalus, which is an absolute newcomer and all the other valid horses in the 13 horse field.

Naturally, as in all the class trot races this week, notwithstanding recent outings, one also has to pay attention to the extremely short race distance, which naturally constitutes an advantage for pure sprinters.

The three Gold class races (two on Thursday and another on Sunday) are also full of promising horses, some of which are coming from extremely good performances such as, in the first race, recent winners Happiness Photo, New Star D K, Reader Jyl and recent runners-up Wies Buitenzorg and Quermes Rush, together with horses such as Nitesco d’Antony, P.A. Surprise and Pegelas which were recently racing in the Premier class.

In the second Gold class race, we find two recent winners Lost Photo and Quioco Dry, Presidential, Pan des Couperies, Veikko Hornline, Why Not As and Oscar Mati which have all placed well in their recent outings, as well as gelding newcomers French 10 year old Quart de Cidre and Italian 9 year old Los Angeles, among all the valid horses.  Undoutedly another very balanced race.

Finally, in Sunday’s only Gold class race, there are no less than three recent winners Quattro du Gite, Ollico Pellois and Pissaro, together with Obelix Cream, Querios du Randou, Obelix Molgard, L’Ideal de Fersan, Malewe and Quintet du Vivier which all placed well recently, among the 14 extremely competitive participants.

It is not often the case but on Thursday it will be a pleasure to see our Copper class horses being protagonists in this meeting, through the semi-finals of the San Frangisk Cup.  Forty eight trotters split into four semi-finals will compete in this championship, the first three from each semi-final qualifying for the final which is due to be held on the 11th May.

Seven nationalities are represented, i.e. Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden, with horse ages varying widely between 4 and 18 years.

In each semi-final we find various horses which are either coming from positive performances in the last couple of months or else have been recently relegated from the Bronze class, with all remaining participants also having the means to challenge strongly for a place in the final.

The first semi-final features horses such as Dreamed Victory (a win and two runner-up places in its last outings), Nolan Streamline (a win in the last two months), Ideal de Suce (two places in its last two outings), Kiton de Bouere (a good runner-up place in its last race), with others like Absolutelymeadow, Boshoevens Emily,and Nypheta de Bisoir having only recently been relegated from the Bronze class.

The same is the case in the second semi-final, with horses such as Loulou de la Rose (a win and a place in its last two races), Olifant du Pouy, Simone Surgy, Ronin del Brenta and others managing good places in the last weeks, whilst horses like Robin Lou and Pout des Quelaines are coming from recent Bronze class races.

Among all the valid participants in the third semi-final we find Icare de Jemma and Fuoco Nel Fuoco both recently racing in the Bronze class and others like Monte Cinto Mag, Minou de Perdriat, Mirage d’Ete and Manifi Pointer among others, all having placed in their last three outings.

In the last semi-final, Uranium des Arkads is coming from two consecutive wins and Noble d’Urzy from a place and a win, with horses such as Ocean Gede’, Pine Wood Harry and Quella des Moyeux having placed well in recent weeks, whilst others like Bob Wielinga and Stormy Sand are recent additions to this class, and with all the other participants having the talent to claim a place in the final.

The remaining trot races are dedicated to the Silver and Bronze classes, with French Quoly being scheduled to debut in the Silver class and Swede Cullinan Diamond racing for the first time in the Bronze class.    

The two flat races will be competed on the rather long 1,750m distance.  Thursday’s is a Class A race whose six participants comprise quality horses such as last year’s Mediterranean Derby, Coronation Cup and other prestigious race winner Kimberley Downs (also coming from a win in its only outing this year), Gold As Good coming from a win and no less than five places in its last races, Enthrall which makes its return after a more than 4 month stop, recent newcomers Key Art and Zen whose progress will be followed with interest and absolute newcomer 5 year old British gelding Icewan.

Sunday’s race is reserved for Class B thoroughbreds with a more restricted four horse field, consisting of 2011 Mediterranean Derby winner Buttermilk coming from two good places, Ollie Fliptrik coming from five straight places, Bon Santos which had a positive outing in its only race this year and Johnny McGurk in search of further improvement after it made its return to racing a couple of weeks ago, after a long stop.     

And so, after the conclusion of the Tazza l-Kbira we return to more “normal” race meetings.  I always feel that the Tazza l-Kbira championship really gives a kick forward to the season by increasing the enthusiasm and adrenalin in all of us, owners, drivers, trainers and spectators.  Indeed the remainder of the season is full of other great and varied appointments, commencing with those of these two meetings and then continuing with the start of other exciting championships in the coming weeks.  As we are told when we travel by plane, “keep your seat belt fastened”  for the coming appointments...

Last Meeting

Last Sunday’s meeting held in front of the season’s largest crowd was undoubtedly dominated by the main trot event of the year, i.e. the Bank of Valletta Tazza l-Kbira final for 2014 (the 80th year anniversary since the first time it was held, way back in 1934) on the rather long 2,640m distance. 

Apart from the accompanying spectacle prepared by the Malta Racing Club, this great race was supported by seven other races all on the sprint 1,640m distance, including two for the Gold class and another three for the Silver class.

BOV Tazza l-Kbira final

One can say that Cloria Victis dominated this final leading practically from start to finish.  Perceval went out in the lead but after a few tens of metres Cloria Victis took over and gave the race a rather gentle pace, followed by Perceval, Oltedo de Rieux and Oran.

The situation remained the same until the start of the last lap, when the pace quickened but Cloria Victis remained in firm control, followed by Perceval hugging the rail and Oran on the outside.

In the backstraight, as it was subjected to the other horses’ attacks, Cloria Victis responded in kind and increased its speed substantially to consolidate its lead.  Into the last 300m, Swedish 10 year old Cloria Victis, driven in a masterly fashion by Charles Degiorgio, produced a fantastic sprint to resist comfortably Perceval’s courageous attack throughout the final straight, winning by three quarters of a length from the said Perceval, followed by Oltedo de Rieux, the fast-finishing Quiet Way and Oran, in 1’15’8 per kilometre on the 2,640m distance.

Thus Cloria Victis won its second race in Malta and most importantly the BOV Tazza l-Kbira for 2014.  It also became the first Swedish trotter to ever win this most prestigious accolade in Maltese trot racing.

At the end of the race, Mr Charles Borg, Bank of Valletta’s Chief Executive Officer, accompanied by the Hon Mr Chris Agius, Parliamentary Secretary for Research, Innovation, Youth & Sport, presented the trophies and prizes to the winner’s and placing horses’ owners and drivers, in the presence of other distinguished guests present for the occasion.   

Gold class

French newcomer Quel Homme took an early lead in the first Gold class race, followed closely for most of the distance by Ironbar and Nophenio de Lune.  Into the final straight it was Quel Homme followed like a shadow by Ironbar, which went on the outside to sprint strongly and attack the race leader, with these two horses providing a splendid finish.

At the end Ironbar was the winner by just a head from the same Quel Homme, followed by Means Nothing and Quitou Jim Park.  This was the winner’s first seasonal and fourth win in Malta, in a time of 1’15’1 per kilometre.

Versace Boko took an early lead in the second Gold class race, followed by Xray Hornline and various other horses.  However in the backstraight we saw a strong acceleration by Brave Duo which managed to even go in front with 650m to go.

But at the same time we saw Pile Ou Face advancing on the outer lanes to come within striking distance of Brave Duo.  Pile Ou Face went in front at the start of the final straight and sprinted excellently to become the first horse to claim its fourth win this season so far (its eighth in Malta), just over a head ahead of Xray Hornline, followed by Cowboy Party and Count of Life, in 1’15’5 per kilometre.

Silver class

Okapi des Dimes was in front from start to finish in the first Silver class race, holding a rather substantial lead for a good part of the distance. 

The situation changed in the last 400m when the race leader’s lead was cut down substantially and it had to face a very serious challenge in the final straight from Pridem d’Hague’s strong sprint, but Okapi des Dimes managed to resist this attack to claim its first victory in Malta by just a head from the same Pridem d’Hague, followed by Quick Et Rare and Zeta Jones A, in 1’15’9 per kilometre.

Livi Champion took an early lead in the second Silver class race, followed closely by French newcomer Rocky Mati, among others.  Obi Wan Kenobi advanced well in the backstraight and managed to come head to head with Livi Champion with around 600m to go.

Livi Champion still managed to retain the lead and was the first into the final straight, but at that stage it could do nothing to resist Rocky Mati’s strong sprint which led the latter to a dream debut, winning by about two lengths from the strong finishing Pema, followed by Mint Condition and Newman.  The winner’s time was 1’15’7 per kilometre, its absolute career personal best.

Various horses took the lead at the start of the last Silver class race including Megiddo and Julian Port, but it was the latter that took the lead at the start of the last 1,000m.  However, in the backstraight we saw Rasting Celina’s impressive progression to come up to fourth place, following Julian Port, Record du Mexique and Megiddo.

Into the final straight however, the protagonist was Rasting Celina which went in front in the last 150m and remained there till the end to claim its second victory from as many races in Malta so far, a couple of lengths ahead of Record du Mexique, followed by Julian Port and Megiddo.  The race time was 1’14’5 per kilometre, the best time in last Sunday’s meeting and also the winner’s absolute career personal best.

Two hundred seconds (Part One - Before the Race)

That’s as much as it lasted!  3 mins 19.99 secs – the time of the BOV Tazza l-Kbira final, or about 200 seconds!

But how much else characterises a final of this nature!  The Maltese equivalent of the Prix d’Amerique in France, the Elitlopp in Sweden or the Gran Premio Lotteria d’Agnano in Italy.

I must admit that as much as I have loved this trophy since I was a boy, in the last couple of years I struggled to be at the racecourse on the big day.  Last year I did not make it due to an accident I was involved in and this year I managed in extremis due to a commitment I had in Gozo.  But the race against time to be at the racecourse was truly worthwhile!

Well ... just for those 200 seconds?

Yes, to some extent, because those 200 seconds were indeed packed with excitement and led to the winner of the 80th anniversary Tazza l-Kbira edition.  But what else was there?

The first thing that struck me on my entry in the racecourse was the crowd.  What a wonderful large crowd was at the racecourse last Sunday!  I felt transported back to the eighties and particularly to the great Isard du Pont – Jouteur de Clos challenges of those days, with the racecourse being full to the brim!

And then there was the glorious weather – last year the final had to be postponed because of bad weather whilst this year the joyful, sunny weather provided the perfect backdrop for this fantastic race.  I remember thinking that even the weather seemed to be smiling for the occasion!

I met and had a word with Salvu Mallia of TVM dressed up for the occasion as a driver.  He was also clearly enjoying the atmosphere and commented that he never imagined that horse-racing could be so much fun!

And then the spectacle prepared by the Malta Racing Club.  The Opel Adam model cars and the Harley Davidson motorcycles transporting owners and drivers – a fitting moment in the limelight for these horse-racing protagonists who work so much with their horses, very often behind the scenes!

And then the multitude of photographers present at the racecourse for the occasion ... in a way I felt sad for them because they were on duty while we were enjoying ourselves but they did a great job in providing coverage for this sports celebration.  And I hope that they enjoyed the occasion too.

Then all the drivers together, in their colourful racing attire, a mix of youth and experience.  I found myself wishing to be one of them ... highly unlikely I must say, given that I hardly know how to drive a car, let alone a horse :).

I was struck by the comment of one of the drivers “Competing is enough for me.”  What a beautiful and appropriate comment – being one of the chosen 11 to participate in the race of the year is truly a privilege.

And the photo of the drivers, together with the Parliamentary Secretary for Research, Innovation, Youth & Sport, the Hon Mr Chris Agius, the Opposition spokesman for Sport the Hon Mr Robert Cutajar – a  demonstration of how sports constitutes a symbol of unity even across the political spectrum and a token of national appreciation for this sport, the Chairman of the Kunsill Malti ghall-Isport the Hon Dr Luciano Busuttil, Bank of Valletta Chief Executive Officer Mr Charles Borg truly appreciated sponsors of this edition, the Chairman of the Malta Racing Club Dr Matthew Brincat and Club officers.  All of them major contributors to the success of this event.

The parade of participating horses, beautifully groomed and wearing the commemorative blanket, led by past Tazza l-Kbira winners. 

The guy next to me was really pleased in particular to see the eldest of them all, 18 year old  In Vitro du Bourg being given a sprint on that track which saw it so often entering the winners’ circle.  The guy exclaimed “He’s still there!” (“Hemm ghadu!” in Maltese.)  But in truth it was such a great joy to see all these past winners present last Sunday – part of the history of the Tazza l-Kbira.

And then the excitement and tension preceding the race itself.  One can nearly cut them with a knife!  They engulf owners, drivers, all of us spectators but in particular the horses, which certainly feel the tension around them and are themselves as excited as all of us – if not more!  I look around me and even see some people making the Sign of the Cross before the race starts!

The guy next to me tells the boy nearby, his nephew, “We will have to rise up to see the race, because everybody stands up to see it.”  So very true!

My eyes fill with tears as I imagine myself being that boy, I get transported back to when I was myself an 8 year old boy watching my first Tazza l-Kbira final 35 years ago (Espoir des Marais was the winner then – do you remember it?) and my uncle similarly telling me that I would need to get early close to the rails if I was to get a glimpse of the race because there would be so many people trying to do likewise.

But for reasons of space, I will leave my impressions of the race and its aftermath to next week’s edition.

We wish you two great meetings in the next few days.