Water Berry the pick of the crop

With the champagne flavour of last week’s Durban July still tickling the palate, Sunday’s feature at Scottsville takes on a decidedly bread-and-butter taste.

The R80 000 Queen Palm Handicap for fillies and mares over 2 600m at the Pietermaritzburg course does, however, have one thing in common with South Africa’s most glamorous equine event — champion trainer-elect Mike de Kock will be widely expected to lead his charge into the winner’s enclosure.

De Kock, who has amassed stakes winnings of more than R10-million this season, sends out joint top-weight Water Berry, a three-year-old daughter of Fort Wood who will be bidding for her fifth win from just 13 starts.

Racing in the famous yellow-and-black Oppenheimer colours, Water Berry does seem to be on the upgrade and was a facile 2,75-length winner over Solar Express in her last start at the Vaal.

That start-to-finish victory came after a two-month layoff and Water Berry could easily be even better than the run suggests. Besides the normal improvement one would expect, Fort Wood’s progeny often seem to get better with age and experience.

Certainly, Water Berry has encountered stronger competition than she meets here and with July Day hero Kevin Shea in the saddle she seems sure to give a good account of herself.

A threat to the likely favourite is Cape raider Star Deputy. The Justin Snaith-trained import from New Zealand is very consistent and ran a cracking third behind the much- improved Mill Creek at this course last time out. The 3,5kg pull she has on Water Berry gives the two-time winner a big say in the outcome of this race.

Another with claims is six-year-old Keep The Faith. She won her last start at the Vaal on the same day and over the same distance that Water Berry recorded her most recent victory.

Notably, Keep The Faith covered the distance in a time that was 1,2 seconds faster than Water Berry’s. St John Gray’s mare has had her burden reduced by 4kg to 53,5kg, while Water Berry carries an unchanged 58kg.

The form of the other nine runners seems thin and it is hard to see a winner emerging from among them.

In the third race trainer Cyril Naidoo saddles Cape Wood, a R200 000 Fort Wood gelding who seems set to go one better than his runner-up finish on his debut two weeks ago.

Charles Laird’s R190 000 National Assembly colt Foxgrove looks set to take the fourth. He was a warm order at 13-10 on his debut but found one too good. He should make amends here.

Former champion jockey Anthony Delpech partners Alistair Gordon’s Toofah in the fifth, a graduation plate, and the pair should take a lot of beating. The son of Kefaah won back-to-back races earlier in his career and should enjoy the extra ground he gets here.

Best bets for Newmarket: Military Salute (race 4); Gold Smuggler (race 8) Kenilworth: Slinky Malinky (race 4); Ad Sum (race 5)

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Ray Leathern
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