After Smart Call captured the January 9 Paddock S. (G1) at Kenilworth – which has served as a Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In” and is expected to be again in 2016 – owner/breeder Jessica Slack reportedly hoped to take up the offer in the Filly & Mare Turf (G1) at Santa Anita.
That desire should take on a fresh urgency, now that Smart Call has demolished a field of top-class males in South Africa’s celebrated J & B Metropolitan (G1) back at Kenilworth on Saturday. The Mauritzfontein Stud homebred was nestled just behind 8-5 favorite Legal Eagle, who was perched right by the flank of pacesetting Legislate in the early going.
Legal Eagle was coming off a terrific score in the January 9 Queen’s Plate (G1), itself a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). As he advanced to attack Legislate, a former South African Horse of the Year, Smart Call had daylight down the stretch. She surged past them, widening her margin to 3 1/2 lengths at the wire and finishing 1 1/4 miles on the good turf in 2:03.17.
Best of the rest was Legal Eagle, while Captain America (yet another Group 1 winner) got up for third. Legislate tired to sixth, and defending champion Futura – South Africa’s reigning Horse of the Year — never got involved from off the pace in 11th.
Smart Call was notching her third career Group 1 victory, having landed last May’s Woolavington 2000 (G1) at Greyville in her only prior attempt at this trip, and the Paddock over nine furlongs. She was flattered in the interim when Inara, whom she unceremoniously dethroned in the Paddock, came back to score a repeat win in the January 23 Majorca (G1).
Smart Call’s resume now reads 16-7-4-2, which also reflects a quartet of stakes placings, chief among them last season’s Garden Province (G1) and Gauteng Fillies Guineas (G2). Clearly in the form of her life at the moment, she’s compiled a four-race winning streak that began with the November 28 Ipi Tombe Challenge (G2) at Turffontein.
Most of that record was compiled with Weichong Marwing aboard, but unfortunately, he missed out on the J&B Met ride due to injury. Picking up the windfall was J.P. van der Merwe, who’d ridden her in morning exercise but not in the afternoon, and had to fly from Johannesburg into Cape Town for the mount. According to sportingpost.co.za, three international riders were in the mix before van der Merwe got the plum assignment – and his biggest victory.
There’s no question that Smart Call would be a fantastic addition to the Filly & Mare Turf, not merely for exotic flair, but as a serious competitor.
Her trainer, Alec Laird, has already showcased a top South African performer abroad – London News, the 1997 J&B Met and Queen’s Plate hero who plundered Hong Kong’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup and placed in the Prince of Wales’s (G2) at Royal Ascot.
But that was before the arduous quarantine requirements that are now in place for horses shipping out of South Africa, thanks to worries about African Horse Sickness.
Thus her Breeders’ Cup ambitions encounter a significant obstacle. The roundabout trek, in conditions that can vary from undesirable to draconian, often takes a toll on fitness – and sometimes general health. To be sure, South African horses have overcome this liability when traveling to Dubai, and thence to the wider world stage.
Coming to the United States for the Breeders’ Cup, however, may present a sterner logistical challenge. An elite Thoroughbred must be at peak fitness for a championship event, and given the rules in place, it’s a tight timetable to get in a meaningful prep and then move forward.
The case in point is Variety Club, a sensational South African whose 2013 Queen’s Plate triumph booked his ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Mile. But as Ryan Goldberg reported in a 2014 New York Times piece, connections had to abandon plans due to the quarantine protocols:
Last year , [racing manager Derek] Brugman tried arranging for him to run in the Breeders’ Cup in the United States. But the horse would have been required to stand in a box at a New York airport for 60 days, Brugman said, with no exercise or sunlight. Brugman said he had asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a treadmill, but the request was denied.
“The quarantine rules have actually gotten worse rather than better, which is frightening, considering how bad it was,” Brugman said. “There’s no light at the end of the tunnel at the moment.”
Until we learn if the U.S. side of the process in 2016 is any more lenient, Smart Call would have to win the battle for fitness before she ever sees a rival at Santa Anita.
If her participation is derailed, as Variety Club’s was, international racing fans – and the Breeders’ Cup – would suffer a real loss. It would be a shame if this descendant of past Breeders’ Cup stars Miesque and Banks Hill can’t try to add to their legacy.
Smart Call’s sire, the Juddmonte-bred Ideal World, is by Kingmambo (Miesque’s son) out of Banks Hill. Her dam, Good Judgement, has South African globetrotters in her blood: she’s by South African Triple Crown legend Horse Chestnut and a half-sister to champion Greys Inn.
Both achieved international success for Mike de Kock. Horse Chestnut famously crushed the 2000 Broward H. (G3) at Gulfstream Park and looked sure to make a great impact in the handicap division, only to suffer a career-ending injury. Greys Inn captured the 2005 Dubai City of Gold (G3) and placed in Hong Kong’s QEII Cup. Both Horse Chestnut and Greys Inn sported the same historic Oppenheimer colors that Smart Call now carries for Slack, the granddaughter of Harry and Bridget Oppenheimer.
With her ability, record, connections, and pedigree, Smart Call deserves a sensible path to the Breeders’ Cup. Let’s hope that officialdom can ameliorate the process.
Photo courtesy of Jessica Slack (@Mauritzfontein) via Twitter.