Travel delay puts Dubai World Cup trip in jeopardy for star South African sprinter Van Halen

Horse Racing Van Halen
Corne Spies fears G1 winner Van Halen may be forced to miss Dubai engagement unless he can get him to Europe. Photo: A&A/spiesracing.co.za

By Jon Lees

South Africa: Star South African sprinter Van Halen is at risk of being unable to make Dubai World Cup night after being held up in Mauritius over ongoing issues with African Horse Sickness (AHS).

The dual G1 winner has completed the mandatory 90-day quarantine period on the island and, with Corne Spies-trained stablemate Nourbese, was due to catch a flight to Belgium this week for onwards transit to Jane Chapple-Hyam’s stables in Newmarket.

However, both horses were turned away at the airport and have been forced to wait even longer while British officials assess the AHS risk.

“It’s been an adventure at the very least, and one with a lot of obstacles,” said Spies. “They were supposed to fly on Monday but there was a question about the horse sickness status of Mauritius and the UK authorities wouldn’t accept them.

“So they stood on the apron to be loaded on the plane and could never leave. We hope the powers-that-be will issue a directive soon. We were under the impression that would happen yesterday but we haven’t heard.

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“We are in limbo. They are booked to travel on Thursday or Friday if we can actually get the go ahead from the UK veterinary departments to allow them in.”

If Mercury Sprint winner Van Halen is cleared to travel, Spies hopes to run the five-year-old gelding in the Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan on March 27 but time is running out.

Horse Racing Van Halen
Van Halen: G1 Mercury Sprint winner could still race internationally if he misses Dubai target. Photo: A&A/spiesracing.co.za

“We hope a horse like Van Halen will be able to complete his quarantine in the UK in time to get to Dubai, but we are starting to cut it very close,” said Spies. “We were hoping to make the Saudi Cup meeting but we’ve missed that by half a mile! We have had delay upon delay and the Covid situation doesn’t aid any of this.”

Vaal-based Spies, who is assisted by his father Tobie, also a G1-winning trainer, is a former winner of the Zimbabwe trainers’ championship when he ran a satellite yard. Before now, however, that has been the extent of his international campaigning – but in Van Halen and the three-year-old Nourbese he believes he has two horses that could have more to offer overseas.

“Even if we do miss the Dubai season, at least we will be quarantined out of South Africa,” said Spies. “Then all sorts of options all across the world open up. There is the possibility they could go to the next carnival or race in the UK, France, Australia, Singapore or America. At this stage we just want to get the journey finished.”

He went on: “They are two seriously decent horses. Van Halen is a two-time G1 winner over sprints and was very unlucky in a couple he probably should have won. 

Horse Racing Nourbese
Nourbese: due to travel to Europe with stablemate Van Halen. Photo: Candiese Lenferna

“Nourbese won a G2 as a two-year-old and got very badly interfered with in a G1 and still ran second. He could have been the champion two-year-old in South Africa if that had gone his way, plus the form is standing up very strongly.

“We realise we are taking on real horses outside South Africa, but it will be very nice to test them and see how they go.”

Ordinarily Spies would hope to continue to be their trainer but coronavirus restrictions may make that challenging. “It was the plan but it’s really turning out to be a nightmare with visas and Covid requirements, especially with this South African strain,” he explained.

“They don’t really allow South Africans in anywhere in the world at present so we might have to make different arrangements as far as the training is concerned. But I own shares in both horses so I will still be on the adventure, whatever happens.”

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