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Stars align for pre-race favourite Raffles stable

The Bridget Stidolph-trained four-year-old gelding was in scintillating form tearing apart its competitors in the 2000m race under the stewardship of experienced jockey, Gavin Lerena.

THIS time it was written in the stars for Ashley Dixon one of the owners of the winning horse Raffles at the recently held Castle Tankard race at the iconic Borrowdale Race Course.

The Bridget Stidolph-trained four-year-old gelding was in scintillating form tearing apart its competitors in the 2000m race under the stewardship of experienced jockey, Gavin Lerena.

This was different from six years ago when bottles of champagne were popped by this same stable after winning the Castle Tankard with a rank outsider, Roman Discent, rode by Mathew Thackery who was pegged at 66/1. Discent won the stable US$50 000 back in 2018.

A cool US$25 000 was the reward for all the sweat and toil this time around. And, too good was Raffles that Stidolph had to depend on the replay to come to terms with what really transpired during the race.

"I don't know how to explain it but I'm absolutely over the moon. So, so happy, it was unbelievable. I need to watch the replay to see what happened," an ecstatic Stidolph said.

"I have to say thank you to my owners. They took a gamble, they bought the horse. They brought him up here and we managed to secure Gavin. We got Gavin up, Gavin knows horses and he's doing so well in Joburg. So, it's a thank you to my owners, it's a thank you to Gavin, it's a thank you to Adam, it's a thank you to the trainers in South Africa. Unbelievable, I can't really explain it. I'm a little bit stuck for words at the moment."

Stidolph has a midas touch when it comes to training winning horses and focus now switches to the OK Grand Challenge.

She registered success in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 with her trained horses ruling the roost; these include Duffy's Call, Royal Honour and Simona a two-time OK Grand Challenge winner.

She, however, is not putting the cart before the horse opting to take it one day at a time until the day of the race.

"We will see when we get there, I have no idea. We will see when that comes about we still got a long way to go to get to that," added Stidolph.

"So, it's a lot of work still to do with horses, still a month to go to the OK so still a lot of work to do."

An over the moon, owner Dixon, a steward at Borrowdale Race Course could not hide his excitement after Raffles' heroics.

"In terms of racing, we race in three events a year; the Castle Tankard, the Republic Cup and the OK Grand Challenge. But, of all that, this is the biggest event by far," Dixon said.

"For 60 years, in 2018 I was lucky enough to win with my friends and we went and drank champagne the next day. The horse was Roman Discent it was 66/1, rank outsider and today we had the favourite. All of the stars aligned. We have got a magnificent jokey, our horse is fit. Our trainer kept it in brilliant form culminating in these jubilations.

"When you win such a thing, (it’s like) when one of you guys' soccer team wins a Premier League, that's how I'm feeling. I'm not a soccer guy, I'm a racing guy but you know the feeling, that's me now."

Dixon added that the win in the Castle Tankard puts them in good stead heading into the OK Grand Challenge race.

"This was a handicapped race so we made a bit of points which would give us a bit of weight but it's a magnificent horse. We were the favourites to win in this race for a good reason. In the OK Grand Challenge, we could win but it will be much closer and there will be many other horses that can win," he added.

"We don't breed horses in Zimbabwe anymore. We used to breed incredible horses but this depleted over time sadly. So, we buy horses always from South Africa, we don't bring horses further field than South Africa, but we are on the auctions and they respect Zimbabwe buyers and we bought a good one."

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