Royal Variety show for Cape Town
SOME of us had a crummy 2012 and should be excused for feeling a tremor of hope for improved fortunes when surveying the racing landscape of 2013.
The first biggie of the year is the Queen's Plate tomorrow, and as the country's top mile race it has a quality line-up.
Those of us of a certain age who saw in the new year watching the British Royal Variety Show on the box might have déjà vu about the Kenilworth showpiece. A preview of tomorrow's meeting could be headlined "Variety Club to dish up top performance for Queen's Plate" - pretty much what UK papers said about the televised theatrics at the Albert Hall.
But there'll be no Neil Diamond warbling, David Walliams with corny jokes, performing dogs or screeching from Alicia Keys (which I understand had Prince Philip sticking his fingers in his ears, crafty old dog).
The Cape Town fare is Strictly Come Galloping, with the usual "strictly come in blue and white" dress theme providing visual diversion.
South Africa's current Horse of the Year, Variety Club, is even-money favourite for the 152nd renewal of the Queen's Plate. A few weeks ago not a single racing expert entertained anything but a thumping victory for the Joey Ramsden-trained four-year-old colt.
However, three developments gave the punditry rather more nuance.
Firstly, wily old Mike Bass surprised by entering his sprinter What A Winter in the R1-million contest.
The five-year-old has recently found his best form over much shorter trips, but it is worth noting that Bass admits long plotting a Queen's Plate snaffle with the son of Western Winter. Consider too that What A Winter won the Selangor Cup over 1600m at Kenilworth earlier in his career.
Then Pomodoro was supplemented into the race.
Sean Tarry's colt was considered a fortunate winner of the 2012 Durban July, with rivals being balked at crucial moments of the race. But he did win from the widest draw - no mean feat in our premier race.
You don't often get a July champion being described as an "improving sort" and "possibly something special" some six months after wearing the blue sash at Greyville. But that's Pomodoro - thanks to two smashing runs following a lay-off after his "lucky" July day. Jaws dropped when he cleaned up useful sprinters over 1100m at Turffontein; there was further reassessment when he hammered top-class opposition over 1600m. Add in the saddle services of six-time Queen's Plate winner Piere Strydom and you've a runner.
The third disruption to the Variety Club Queen's Plate "cakewalk" was his drawing the extreme outside gate of 15.
Champion jockey Anton Marcus is aboard and, with luck in running, Variety Club can overcome the disadvantage - but it's no given, particularly with the infamous tendency for riders to gerrymander pace at Kenilworth.
Other contenders include Jackson, Master Plan and Run For It, making for an all-round exciting prospect and a fine way to ease into 2013.
Race 8: 2 Variety Club, 5 Pomodoro, 6 Master Plan, 1 What A Winter