Danie Toerien: It’s not often a “small” trainer gets a graded double on a “big” race day, but on Saturday Joe Soma is aiming to do exactly that – for the second time in a month.
Not that there’s anything small about Soma, except for the size of his yard.
His two superstars, Got The Greenlight and African Adventure, will be in action in the Grade 1 4Racing Premier’s Champions Challenge and the Grade 3 4Racing Gold Bowl respectively.
Having won the Horse Chestnut Stakes and the Caradoc Gold Cup respectively beginning of April, both these runners are in tip-top condition to repeat that feat.
But Soma might even go one better, as Happy And Glorious, his other runner on Saturday who finished a close second on Derby Day, could well record his maiden victory on Saturday.
“We are running the same three horses we did on Derby Day and all three have come through their preparation very well,” said Soma.
“Happy and Glorious has improved, there is no doubt that Got The Greenlight is fitter than he was for the Horse Chestnut, and African Adventure is a better horse over 3200m than he is over 2400m.”
Got The Greenlight comes up against Triple Crown winner Malmoos and Equus Horse Of The Year Summer Pudding, so his task is considerably more difficult.
“It’s the first time since his comeback (on 6 March) that we’ve had four weeks without any interference in his work,” said Soma.
“He is definitely fitter, but then he has to be because we are taking on a lot stronger this time round, and over 2000m.”
Soma believes his runner, together with Malmoos and Summer Pudding, are three of the best runners in the country over 2000m.
“We are looking forward to the challenge and it’s wonderful to be part of it. There are three true champions here.”
With Malmoos being a three-year-old and Summer Pudding a filly, Got The Greenlight does give weight away.
“But I’m not really worried about the weight,” said Soma. “It is a hard race, but if you want to take on the best, you can’t hide behind weights.”
A bigger issue on the day will be the pace.
“I would love to see a nice, even gallop throughout,” said Soma. “Not too fast and furious, but too slow and it turns into a sprint and horses get caught.”
Asked what his biggest concern is, the trainer paused, thought long and hard, and then said “nothing”, followed by a hearty laugh.
“I’m trying to think what I’m worried about, and nothing comes to mind.”
That can only mean that everything is going exactly according to plan and that he is confident of another champion performance from his superstar.
“If we get beat, we’ll get beaten by a champion. On the other hand, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”
Although African Adventure will be carrying 61kg on his marathon trip of 3200 around Turffontein where the horses will pass the finishing post twice, Soma is not too concerned.
“He is way better over 3200 than he is over 2400,” said the trainer. He’s been over further than 2400 twice, and on both occasions, he won by 7 lengths.”
According to Soma the St John Gray-trained Don’t Look Back, with S’manga Khumalo in the saddle, is the biggest danger.
“I’m expecting a match race between the two.”
Khumalo, who steered African Adventure to victory in the Caradoc Gold Cup, will be replaced by Muzi Yeni.
“I’m happy to have Muzi on,” said Soma, explaining that Khumalo’s agent prefers he ride for Gray on the day. “In fact, I’m going with Muzi throughout the day. Muzi has won on the horse twice.”