By Sarah Whitelaw
Turffontein Racecourse in South Africa hosted one of its biggest racing festivals on Champions Day April 27 with no fewer than four group I events in the card. But one of the afternoon’s greatest performances came in the group II Wilgerbosdrift SA Oaks.
The Oaks was the third leg of the Triple Tiara (sponsored by Wilgerbosdrift) for 3-year-old fillies, and hot favorite Cherry on The Top stood in line to collect a 1 million rand bonus (US$109,601) as she had previously won the other two races.
The Ormond Ferraris-trained filly duly obliged, at the prohibitive odds of 1-4. Regular rider Nooresh Juglall has built up a fantastic relationship with the nearly black daughter of Tiger Ridge, and he gave the filly a confident ride.
Coming to the final 400 meters, Cherry on The Top was still a few lengths off the pace, and looked to be going nowhere.
However, when Juglall asked for more, she responded gamely and drew clear to score a 1 1/4-length win over the luckless Do You Remember. The latter, out of former SA Oaks winner Festive Occasion, ran second to Cherry On The Top in all three legs of the Triple Tiara.
By winning the series, Cherry on The Top became just the second filly to achieve the treble, Horse of the Year Igugu being the other.
Owned and bred by Bridget Oppeneheimer, who also bred and owned SA Triple Crown winner Horse Chestnut, Cherry On The Top is out of Oaks winner Carolina Cherry, by the Oppenheimer’s resident sire Fort Wood.
Cherry On The Top has now won ten of her 13 outings.
Earlier in the day, multiple champion sprinter What A Winter finally captured the Computform Sprint (SAf-I) over 1,000 meters (about five furlongs), after two previous unsuccessful attempts. He had previously finished second in 2011 and third last year, when beaten by subsequent Al Quoz Sprint (UAE-I) winner Shea Shea (National Emblem).
Despite having defeated the very quick filly Via Africa in the Cape Flying Championship (SAf-I) earlier in the year, the champion was sent off a joint favorite with his female rival.
The 5-year-old son of champion sire Western Winter, who is set to make his final start in the Mercury Sprint (SAf-I) later in the year before retiring to Drakenstein Stud, produced his customary turn of foot to mow down the flashy Via Africa, who was not disgraced back in second. What A Winter was just ridden out with jockey Bernard Fayd’Herbe never having to resort to the stick.
The eventual winning distance was 1 1/4 lengths, with the Oasis Dream filly Welwitschia 1 3/4 lengths farther back in third.
Bred by the Daytona Stud, What A Winter is one of South Africa’s most popular champions. The horse, trained by veteran Cape Town conditioner Mike Bass, has now won 14 of his 24 outings.
One of 20 group I winners for his sire, What A Winter is out of a mare by Ahonoora.
There was a huge upset in the day’s main event, the President’s Champion Challenge (SAf-I). A 2,000-meter (about 1 1/4 mile) contest for all ages, the Challenge attracted a fairly moderate bunch of older horses. Leading trainer Sean Tarry, who had earlier won the day’s SA Nursery (SAf-I) with Dubawi colt Willow Magic, had a strong hand of four runners. One of the Tarry runners, Whiteline Fever (Right Approach) was eventually sent off favorite ahead of the Mike de Kock-trained Mujaarib (AUS), and SA Oaks winner Ilha Bela (Fort Wood).
However, it was another Tarry runner who stole the show. The well-bred Heavy Metal (by South Africa’s current leading sire Silvano), ran on strongly over the final 300 meters to give promising rider S’Manga Khumalo his biggest victory.
Heavy Metal, who was sent out a 40-1 outsider after a string of below-par efforts, got the better of Knock on Wood, who was aiming to give Ferraris and Juglall a memorable group I double.
However, the winner was traveling sweetly under Khumalo a long way out and put the race away in the final 200 meters.
A number of the fancied contenders were undone by the pedestrian pace of the race, with Sansui Summer Cup (SAf-I) runner-up Shogunnar back in third place.
Heavys Metal's victory ensured that Tarry sits atop of the South Africa trainers standings. Tarry is seeking his first title win, and has been enjoying one of the finest seasons of his career.
Owned by Chris Van Niekerk, the CEO of Cape Thoroughbred Sales, Heavy Metal was bred by the Gauteng based Bosworth Farm Stud. He was a R250,000 buy (US$27,400) at the 2010 Emperors Palace National Yearling Sale. Now a four time winner, Heavy Metal is out of a winning mare by Baroon (Rainbow Quest), and is the ninth group I winner for Silvano.
Silvano is also the sire of Tellina, beaten favorite in Saturday’s R1,500,000 (US$164,401) SA Derby (SAf-I), the third leg of the SASCOC Triple Crown.
Poorly drawn, Tellina was dropped out to last and never looked like getting on terms with the first three finishers. The colt eventually finished fourth, beaten 3 1/4 lengths.
The Derby was a triumph for the Weiho Marwing yard, who sent out the first two finishers in Wylie Hall (AUS) and Gothic.
The race produced another upset, with the first three finishers starting at 8-1, 33-1, and 10-1 respectively.
However, the winner, Wylie Hall, stamped himself as a potential valuable stud prospect when landing his first group I win. The son of Redoute's Choice had previously beaten Wild One and Gothic when landing the Listed Derby Trial a few weeks ago, and that form was franked in no uncertain terms.
Wylie Hall and Gothic fought out a thrilling finish over the final stages of the 2,450-meter (about 1 1/2-mile) contest, with the Australian bred eventually prevailing by half a length.
Both Wylie Hall and Gothic look to be aimed at some of the future feature races during the KZN season.
By one of Australia’s finest sires (yet to be represented by a son at stud in South Africa), Wylie Hall is a half brother to champion Hong Kong sprinter Absolute Champion, whose seven wins included the Hong Kong Sprint (HK-I).