Jenny - Clean

AN estimated  40,000 is expected to cram into the Champ de Mars racecourse today for the gala feature race of the Mauritius calendar, the oddly  named Maiden Cup

TERRY BUTTS reports from MURITIUS that this highly prized 2300m race, with Group 1 status, was first run in 1834 and as in most years it will have a very strong Australian representation.

Over the years this tiny Indian Ocean Island has been the refuge for  many  Aussie jockeys attracted  not only by the spirited betting of some 40 - mostly Indian bookmakers, but a  lay back lifestyle on this beach fringed Utopia that offers much more than the tedium of race riding.

There is no travel, there is racing once a week from March to December and the promise of riches that many would not contemplate nor expect in most other racing centers of the world.

This year there is a mix of South African, Indian, Irish and Aussie jockeys Mark Pegus, Michael Cahill, and  recent arrival Jason Holder competing against the local Mauritians who are gradually making their mark on a very competitive profession.

Cup favorite is last year’s winner  Captain's Knock the mount of South African  Johnny Geroudis currently second on the table to Irishman  Robbie Burke.

However there has been a solid sprinkling of money for the Mark Pegus mount Sports Factor who is bidding a winning hat-trick. Many good judges believe he has peaked at the right time and is ready for the 2300m on the tight turning track today.

Holder after a winning double last week partners outsider La Foce while Michael Cahill, who is also riding in superb winning form, does not have a mount in the Cup .

Australians have a rich history in the race going back to Mick Evangelista who won in 1958.

Vin Caddy, (grandfather of Steven Arnold's wife Kate) won the it the next year followed by Bobby Ball in 1961 and Alan McLean in 1965 on Noble Hero.

Queenslander Lenny Hill, is a celebrated and revered name in Mauritius where he rode for several seasons with immense success. He  is the only jockey still to win four Gold Cups and his winning feats on a horse named Azul are talked about with awe.

Other Aussie names on the Maiden Cup honor roll include Robert Heffernan, Norm (Skeeter) Pyatt, who I witnessed ride his last winner in the dust at Normanton, far removed from this rich green tropical Island  venue.

And the list rolls on. Robert Thompson saluted in 1999, so did Les Masters in 1987 and Glyn Schofield (then a South African) scored in 1993.

There is only one horse this year with any Australian background. He is the well fancied  Seattle Ice (Xaar-Seattle Rhythm) who will be ridden by Glen Hatt who for a short stint rode in Brisbane for the Bruce and Jason McLachlan stable. Hatt has already ridden three Maiden Cup winners and flew in from Durban this week just for the one ride.

Not since Thommo booted  home Mast Abeam  has there been an Australian win in the coveted Cup. Pegus, in patriotic fashion, quoted Gough Whitlam when he said yesterday: 'Its Time'.




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