What makes a racing horse a champion?

Champion jockey Craig Zackey chats about his dramatic win at the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate racing festival, on Adam Marcus-trained Vardy.
L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate horse racing
Craig Zackey and Vardy

Vardy’s win in the Grade 1 R1.5 million L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate race at the annual racing festival in Kenilworth delighted his team. Champion jockey, Craig Zackey says both he and Vardy go through intense preparation for these races.

What were the factors during the race that led to the victorious outcome?

My key factors were that the pace was fast and the horse that everyone thought was going to lead couldn’t get to the front and make the pace. Vardy couldn’t pace it with the others in the beginning and I opted to drop him out and find his feet. When I saw my main threats ahead of me and all pulling without the cover they needed, I knew I was in a good position and that when we came to the home straight, my horse was going to catch them. Vardy’s biggest asset is that he’s got such an incredible turn of foot, and with the pace being fast and my dangers all in a position that didn’t suit them, that outcome gave Vardy the very best chance to win.

Tell us about the process of preparing for something as important as the Queen’s Plate – for you and for Vardy?

I won’t ride at all the day before, and I take note of obvious things like getting enough rest and eating well. In terms of strategy, I study the big race form and watch replays of each horse I’m up against. I try to figure out how the race will run, and look at the best possible tactics for my horse. When it comes to riding for the Adam Marcus yard in Cape Town, I am fortunate enough to seek advice and get great help from his father, Basil Marcus, who was a multiple champion jockey all over the world – his help is invaluable.

Prepping Vardy for a big race is much more complicated. He needs to be physically and mentally well. Adam starts prepping him a few weeks prior to the race and everything has to be perfect every day. It requires a fine balance, in that he shouldn’t be overworked nor underfit. It takes a lot of hard work from the whole team to get a horse to his best.

L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate horse racing
Craig Zackey and Vardy

Who makes up Vardy’s support team?

It takes many hands to make a single horse’s career. Vardy’s support team consists of his trainer, jockey, grooms, vets, physios, farrier and work rider. Everyone here plays a role, whether it’s training, making sure Vardy is well fed and healthy or cleaning him.

What’s Vardy’s lineage? What gives this horse the makings of a champion?

Vardy is really bred well. His sire, Var, is a top-class stallion that has, in turn, produced many great champions. His mother is a Jet Master mare from a really good family. Vardy’s a big powerful horse who has a fluent stride and a gentle temperament. What makes Vardy so good is that he’s got so much heart – when he runs he’s determined to win and he does it so fashionably. A horse like him come along once in a lifetime.

Which other horses put up a good performance on the day overall – were there any big surprises?

Queen Supreme, who won the other Group 1 race on the day, The Cartier Paddock Stakes. She is lightly raced and six months behind other four-year-olds and this was her test against probably the best fillies and mares in the country.

The Sun Met is next – how do you think Vardy will fare and what are you doing ahead of the day?

Vardy is known as the ‘new kid on the block’ and so we’ll have a lot of eyes on us. We won’t do anything different from what we did for the Queen’s Plate. As they say, why change what’s working? I will be in the Cape several days before the Met. I love to give him a pat in the mornings, work him once or twice, check his wellbeing and be with the team. I’m excited for the Met –Vardy will farewell, and I’m blessed that he’s my horse going into the big race.

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