What price the crack of a whip? What price a forgotten miler? What price Mauritius?

Jockey Bernard Fayd’Herbe’s delight in winning Saturday’s L’Ormarins King’s Plate at Kenilworth was just a tad diminished when he copped a stinging R40,000 fine for misusing his crop on 80-1 upset winner Al Muthana.

It might be a record-high fine for a crop miscalculation and one wonders whether the stipendiary stewards were as shocked at everyone else at red-hot 1-5 favourite Charles Dickens getting beaten and lashed out – so to speak.

Twelve crop strikes are allowed in a race and the stipendiary stewards counted 16 this time – to which Fayd’Herbe pleaded guilty. The fine was determined by the stipes taking into account the “distance over and manner” of the jockey’s use of his persuader, as well as “the value and status of this race”.

Valuable win

The value of the race was R2-million, with the Al Muthana’s owners pocketing R1,187,500, while the status could hardly be higher, with the King’s Plate being the most prestigious weight-for-age mile race in the
country and a notably smart occasion.

Another value and status factor was five-year-old gelding Al Muthana gaining automatic entry into the US’s Breeder’s Cup Mile at Santa Anita later this year.

Such happy things were not front of mind when the horses flashed past the finishing post, with rank outsider Al Muthana getting up to pip previously unbeaten Charles Dickens on the line. TV presenter Neil Andrews said “you could hear a pin drop” when the unlikely and unpopular result sank into the collective consciousness of an otherwise festive capacity crowd.

Fayd’Herbe will accept the 40-grand lash with fortitude, knowing that his nominal 10% cut of the winning cheque will cover it – not to mention his immense pride at landing his sixth Plate, which was evident in his victory interview.

Mauritian trainer

The veteran heavyweight rider – one of the finest to have graced the local turf – did not gloat, though, and was fulsome in praise of the training feat of conditioner Ricky Maingard, who recently relocated from Mauritius.

Indeed, the name Maingard stole through Kenilworth like a ghost of Christmas past. Racing newbies did not take much notice of a bloke who’d only saddled eight runners – and no winners – this season. But old hands well remembered his name and considerable success in South Africa back in the day. Mostly they remembered a certain “Grey Ghost” with whom the trainer won the (then) Queen’s Plate in 1983 and 1984. That was Wolf Power.

For those who enjoy curiosities, Saturday’s hero Al Muthana won the Wolf Power 1600 (Listed) at Turffontein in late January 2022, when the Australian-bred was in Mike de Kock’s Randjesfontein yard. We were warned!

After that, Al Muthana won again, the Grade 2 1400m Hawaii Stakes at Turfies – curiously, another race that Wolf Power won twice. Omens aplenty!

So, how did this proven crackerjack miler end up at 80-1 and paying R46 a win on the tote on Saturday?

He disappointed when starting as favourite for the 1600m Grade 1 Horse Chestnut Stakes in early April – but was later found to be ill. He joined De Kock’s powerful winter season string in KwaZulu-Natal and promptly landed the Grade 1 Gold Challenge over 1600m at Greyville. Recent history that most of us overlooked.

Starting at 33-1 from draw 16 in the Durban July, Al Muthana was a gutsy eighth after a stumble, running on to finish six lengths off winning stablemate Sparkling Water. Fifth place in a high-class Champions Cup
followed.

At that stage, Al Muthana was the only horse still competing in South Africa in the famous blue and white silks of the late Sheikh Hamdan and a decision seems to have been taken to sell him to tidy up the estate.

Of course, many a punter jumped to the conclusion that this was a De Kock throw-out. Maingard and his coterie of Mauritian owners knew different. We should have, too!

“We knew we had a good horse,” he said in his winning interview. “But we knew it would be a very difficult task.” Hard work, getting an osteopath to sort out “a few problems” and engaging the powerful Fayd’Herbe – absurdly, also born in Mauritius – was the magic formula.


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