The 2023 racing season kicks off on Saturday (January 28), 27 days later than it usually does.
However there is nothing usual about horse racing in Trinidad and Tobago and it remains to be seen how this current season unfolds over the next few months. With one racing day a month the only realistic option, given the paucity of the country’s racing stock, local racing enthusiasts could be looking at a maximum 12 racing days for the year. No doubt the Arima Race Club (ARC) will try to stage more race days than one in certain months, but if that is the current hope, it seems optimistic at best.
The new season kicks off with the traditional opening feature, the Sian’s Gold Sprint on the turf over 1,100 metres. Given the improved weather conditions over the last couple of weeks, it is highly likely that the race will be contested on the targeted surface. As with all of the major feature races over the last couple of years, the field comprises totally local or West Indian bred horses, none under the age of four year olds.
A competitive group has nevertheless paid their subscriptions for the event and any one of the seven could win the race. The highest rated horse in the race is the Stewards Cup winner, General JN. This now eight-year-old horse was a surprise 18/1 winner from Top of the Game (14/1) who reopposes. The General is a prior winner of the Sian’s Gold Sprint and so has proven form on the surface. While his rating suggests that he will be handing out upwards of 5kg to his rivals, the absence of light jockeys in this country results in almost every one of his opponents incurring additional weight which significantly shifts the balance in favour of the General. While the balance shifts, it does not mean that the General is a lock since all his rivals have shown good form, even when carrying significant amount of overweight in the past.
Following his narrow defeat to General JN in the Stewards Cup, Top of the Game returned to score an easy victory over his class on the last racing day of the 2022 season. With a proven ability to sprint and stay, the only question mark with this filly is her ability to handle the turf surface, having never competed over the surface in her short career. Her sire, Crime of Passion, has produced horses who can handle the surface and so the chance must be strong that she will also be able to do so.
The race that was earmarked as the prep race for the Sian’s Gold was the 80 and lower modified benchmark event over the trip and surface on the last racing day. The first four finishers from that event all return to contest the Sian’s Gold Sprint. The winner that day, Marvel Vigor carried 8kg overweight, was installed favourite nevertheless and score an uncontested win. He will be required to carry overweight once again but may not be able to dominate his rivals in the same way.
Two of his rivals, Cool Cat and Super Bird, who were third and fourth respectively went into the prep after layoffs of varying degrees and are certain to strip much fitter on the day. From a weights perspective, in spite of the overweight, Super Bird still gave 3kg to Marvel Vigor and ended up going under by less than three lengths (though Marvel was eased down). Any change in that weight dynamic (which won't be known until race day) could change that equation. The second place finisher, Pawan Putra, came from a very long way back and will need the leaders to duel themselves into defeat to have a realistic winning chance though he represents an outstanding eachway bet.
The big unknown coming into the event is Arsalan, a horse with proven turf form, who defeated Marvel Vigor over 1,500 metres in May 2022. While that distance is at the extreme end of Marvel Vigor’s staying prowess, Arsalan is not devoid of speed. His form since May has been somewhat spotty racing over a variety of surfaces but he cannot be ruled out of the event with any confidence.
As stated at the onset, the Sian’s Gold Sprint will be a very competitive event. Trainer Glenn Mendez has a strong hand with both General JN and Marvel Vigor houses in his stables. The winner could come from either of his two and he will be mindful to advise his jockeys to not duel each other into defeat.
While the surface will be turf, it could matter what side of “Good” it turns out to be. While most have form on any surface, horses racing over the surface for the first time would then to prefer a firmer surface while Marvel Vigor has shown a greater affinity for a softer surface than many of his rivals. Hopefully, the race provides fan with a thriller and sets the stage for a 2023 season that is must happier for the racing fraternity than 2022.
Good luck to all!