July 15, 2024

A chat with the Mashonaland Horse Trainers to discuss the odds of winning the OK Grand Challenge horse race

Interviews by Ngoni Nguruza

  1. Debra Swanson 

Thank you OK Group for supporting our industry. It’s a very big field and in a race of this nature, very often your favourites get unlucky and it’s very often the one that has been doing not so well that then surprises, but we just had a look and all the horses and they look great.

Debra Swanson

What a Dandy -When the OK people speak about happiness, this horse puts a smile on my face every day. He loves his racing. He loves his job and he is very very well. The handicapper has got hold of him in his past two wins. He has gone from 76 to a 105 and so he has a huge weight to carry, but has a huge heart to do it. What he lacks in size, he has in heart. Norbert Takawira, our local and my champion jockey, will partner him on the day. He has run with him before. Dandy runs for anybody. He is very well and will do his best, as he always does. 

Bughatti Blue  – 1800m is a little bit short for him, but it doesn’t mean he hasn’t won that distance before. He will want a nice strong pace. He loves to front run and if he doesn’t wait too long in the panes, he will be out and going. Jockey Wes Marwing has won with him before. It’s a tall ask for him but he is a very genuine bet horse. He has been around: old enough to know what he is doing and so he will be out to make every stride a winning one, I’m sure. Then my two reserve runners, Varnica and Tulip Way – Varnica is the queen of my heart. She has never gone this far for me before and obviously when all the others were falling apart, I suggested running her. I have galloped her twice and once from the bend. I was pleasantly surprised. I did it again because I had to make sure it wasn’t a fluke and she came home very well. She copes with a 1600 to 1800 very well and so she does have an opportunity to run. She will run a good race and I think she will make people put the heat up.

Tulip Way – As a tiny little girl, she will struggle into the race but jockey Kevin is riding her and he knows the system; he knows the style and when she gets the chance to run she will be competitive again as well. It is a tough field but in races of this nature, it’s not your big horses that do well. It’s just one of those big fields, big chances and a lot of BMT is needed. Looking at the horses in the opposition, they all look beautiful and I must admit I was thinking something sneaky like Citrusdal might be a big challenge, obviously your usual dangers of Lilly BlueHoly Land and True Beauty. I thought the field looked really well but I must admit that the horse that caught my eye the most when walking out there was Only Him. It seems every horse will be out there to compete with him. Good luck to all of them and hopefully they will come home sound. 

  • Bridget Stidolph 

Massive thank you to OK! You know it’s fantastic to have a race again this year and the sponsorship they put in. As a result of the elevation to a grade one race, we are very happy and so thank you to OK from all of us. 

Bridget Stidolph

Going through my runners, I have a very big hand this year as we have 6 runners. Lilly Blue is carrying a top weight again. She doesn’t have the best draws yet again, but she is a game horse and she will be trying.  

Captain of Tortuga  I think first time going over this distance (1800m). He is well and he is happy and I think I have got him in the best shape ever since I got him. He has got F Herholdt to partner him. He is an older jockey and he knows this course really well and he could be one of those to come on to upset. 

Only Him is a big horse and he is imposing; he is beautiful but he is still a big baby. As we saw in the Tankard, he saw the crowd and he stopped and so that’s my biggest worry for the OK Grand Challenge and so go with him at your peril. 

Wantage – My little horse who tries his hardest. He ran a phenomenal race in the Tankard and he has got a good draw, a nice weight and he could be the under dog. 

Citrusdale ran a phenomenal race in the Tankard. Morgan (the jockey) knows him really really well and although they don’t have the best of draws, they are both well.

And then ObscureLily Blue’s sister, she comes in with a bottom weight. She loves the distance and I think she might surprise someone. 

From the opposition, funnily enough What a Dandy took my eye, and Holy Land is a big beautiful horse and I think that could be the biggest danger in this race. 

  • Gokhan Terzi 

Thank you to OK Group again for giving us an exciting race to prepare for. Having won this race last year, I think I know what it takes to win the race. I have got three lovely horses in the race, Seven SeasEdward the Seventh and Finchatton.

Gokhan Terzi 

To be honest, I’m not really worried about the opposition and I think my horses will be first, second and third! Haha! Finchatton has got a good draw. Seven Seas at 52 kgs will be hard to catch and she hasn’t had that weight for a long time. They are very well and, to be honest, I think the other trainers can bring it on and watch out for my horses. 

  • Thomas Mason

It’s fantastic to have OK back again this year; they keep following our racing here and it gets better each and every year. USD70000 stake money is fantastic money to race for because we don’t easily get to those kinds of stakes in Zimbabwe and so thank you for sponsorship OK Group. We are all here to try and get a piece of the pie and also it’s fantastic for Zimbabwean racing that the club has managed to get the race graded up from a Grade 2 up to Grade 1. 

It’s nice to race in Grade 1 races anywhere in the world and so we have two Grade 1 races in Zimbabwe now and I think it’s fantastic! Well done to Scott Buchan and MTC for getting us up to Grade 1. 

Thomas Mason

As for the race, well I’m not sure if Gokhan Terzi knows how to count because he says 1,3,3. But I can get one gear better than that. If 2nd and 3rd for Gokhan and then I will easily beat him. Why not?!

I have two runners in the race, True Beauty, as we saw in the Tankard, She came out and won the race.  Now 1800 as compared to 2000 is a different race than the Tankard and horses that finish 3 or 4 lengths off them in the Tankard will improve hips and bounces over 1800m, horses like Finchatton, I agree with Gokhan that they will improve. Lily Blue as well.  Holy Land will suit the 1800m. It’s very competitive and you need a little bit of luck and you need a little bit of good draw as well. The OK Grand Challenge has always been a hard race to win because there is a little bit of unluckiness in the race. Going back to True Beauty, she is well. She has come out on that race very well, on her toes and I’m definitely trying to go and lower Gokhan’s colours. 

My other horse Love the View, was unlucky in that in the Castle Tankard; he pinned the gates versus one of the horses and in racing if you do that kind of thing there has not going to be a come back and it definitely tells from the race that he didn’t have quite the energy in the end. He is much better than his last run. He has a wide draw which I think might suit him, and low weight and I think for me it could be the sneak in the pack but we are in for a good race and I think we are in for an exciting finish.

From the opposition? Well, of course, I have got a soft spot for Holy Land. He is a nice horse and I can pick him as a young horse as a four-year-old and I think OK Grand Challenge will suit him. 2000m was just too far for him but 1800, draw 3, I think he is a big big runner. Only Him you can’t discard. He is a big runner and a big horse and maybe Bridget can do some homework on the crowds. If he could come to the tracks with the crowds here more often, maybe he will not stop this time. I think Holy LandOnly Him and True Beauty will fight it until the finish. 

  • Vanessa Birketoft 

It will be a very difficult race just as the others have alluded. The Birketoft yard has 5 runners in the race. We will start with the outsider of the 5: Armstrong. He is not the favourite from the draws in the OK Grand Challenge but deserves his place on the line up. He will try his best but I’m sure it will be difficult from draw 20. Down at the bottom, Mind Master has benefitted from a good draw; he is a 4-year-old, which will hold him in good stead. He is actually one of the better outsiders with a good draw. 

Vanessa Birketoft 

We go on to Mr Greenlight. At the moment, he is Mr Red Light. He is not performing to his best at the moment. He is usually much better than his current form but should he pitch up for the day, he is always in with a chance. He has run with all these other horses before and like I said, it just depends which horse pitches up. 

Daffiq, without a doubt, is the horse has the most problems in the race. If he is sound for the day, we have done a sterling job to get him to the race but there is nothing like a race, there is nothing like the OK Grand Challenge. I think it’s a difficult task but he is without a shadow of doubt one of the top horses in the line up. He has a good galloping weight and if he doesn’t get tired over the last 200 meters he will be in the first 3.

Then the pick of the yards: it’s gonna be Holy Land, perfect draw 3, as honest as the day is long. He’s a fantastic horse to have in the stable with some fantastic owners. I think I’m going to be a bit biased, but I think Holy Land will win the OK Grand Challenge.

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