Soldier On, trained by Stuart Pettigrew, ridden by Marco van Rensburg and starting as the 9-2 second favourite, held off charging 44-1 outsider Dan The Lad in Leg 1.
Ashley Fortune-trained Tsitsikamma Dance, under Ryan Munger, also clung on bravely to deny Zouaves, with both horses having started at bookmakers’ odds of 8-1.
Remarkable, the third heat of the Grand Series, the Consolation, also over 1450m, delivered another nose-and-nose finish, with Big Mistake prevailing over Flying Winger. That result gave Fortune and Munger a quick double.
As storm clouds wheeled around the Johannesburg skies and thunder rumbled ominously, the first 14 runners finally got to the post for this unusually conceived event – after four postponements, a conditions rejig and a venue change over the space of four weeks, thanks to rain and turf conditions. A sprinkling of rain in the half-hour before Race 4, Leg 1, raised fears but ultimately failed to douse proceedings.
Racing officials and fans heaved a huge sigh of relief as the starting bell sounded for Leg 1 of the Non-Black Type contests. And it was a tidy start.
The scramble for the early lead was won by Sail For Joy, with Soldier On, Bold Coast, Finchatton, Divine Odyssey and Lake Kinneret in hot pursuit. Dan The Lad, starting at 44-1, was steered across from a wide No 12 draw by Fransie Herholdt and joined the leading bunch.
Soldier On, the 9-2 second favourite, was shuffled back in the pack as they rounded the Inside track bend, but he was never more than five lengths adrift under Van Rensburg – in his first ride back after injuring a finger several weeks ago.
In the straight, challenges came from all directions, but Soldier On had the most acceleration and hit the front, with Divine Odyssey challenging up the inside, Sail For Joy clinging on doggedly and Dan The Lad rallying on the outside of the bunch.
It took the judge’s photo-finish camera to separate the first two on the line, with the decision going to Pettigrew’s Brave Tin Soldier gelding.
Lake Kinneret (8-1) finished strongly to grab third place from Sail For Joy (9-1). Favourite Divine Odyssey (7-1) finished sixth.
The sun popped out briefly before the start of Leg 2, a race generally considered to have the stronger line-up of the two.
Hot-pot favourite Mardi Gras – many a punter’s exotics banker – was a tad slowly away, losing a couple of lengths. Under ace rider Gavin Lerena, Mardi Gras scrambled to get on terms, but had to come from near the tail of affairs as the field entered the straight.
Pilou pushed to the front, as is his wont, with Tsitsikamma Dance well in touch, with Full Of Attitude, Huyssteen, Daffiq and Zouaves also in striking distance.
Inside the final 300m, Munger made his move on Tsitsikamma Dance and forged into a two-length lead, chased by Full Of Attitude, with the grey Mardi Gras looming up the middle of the track and looking like he might justify his 5-4 price after all.
However, Tsitsikamma Dance summoned up extra reserves and surged again. Through the pack came Geoff Woodruff-trained Zouaves under Chase Maujean and flashed up alongside the leader.
The winning margin was 0.05 lengths – the same measurement that had decided Leg 1.
Third was Full Of Attitude (6-1), fourth Daffiq (22-1) and fifth the luckless Mardi Gras.
The Grand Series grew out of the Grand Heritage – a 28-horse dash up the Vaal Racecourse straight that couldn’t be staged, even after a fortnight’s delay, due to the poor condition of the turf at the riverside track.
The race was split into two and moved to Turffontein’s Inside track – around the bend – a very different scenario. Then the race meeting was washed out last Saturday.
Despite the apparent jinx on the event, operators, sponsors and trainers “soldiered on” and eventually got the thing done. And what a success it turned out to be, with a good helping of thrilling racing - www.tabnews.co.za