By Sarah Whitelaw
Progeny of leading sire Var dominated South Africa's premier day of sprints at Scottsville racecourse May 24.
The card included four group I races, all run over 1,200 meters (about six furlongs), with the day's main highlight being the Golden Horse Sprint. Offering a purse of 1 million rands ($97,045 in United States funds), it was won by Normanz, a son of Var.
Var's brilliant daughter, Via Africa, narrowly won The City of Pietermaritzburg SA Fillies Sprint (SAf-I) for the second year in a row.
Remarkably, it is also the second year in a row that Var offspring have achieved the group I double, with Via Africa and Contador having given the Avontuur-based stallion the same result in 2013.
Normanz also gave trainer Charles Laird and owners Markus and Ingrid Jooste a rare Golden Horse Sprint double, with the connections responsible for last year's winner as well.
Saturday was a day to remember for South Africa's leading owners as the Joostes also own Golden Horse runner-up Red Ray, as well as Tsogo Sun Medallion (SAf-I) winner Guiness. The couple also campaign Rich Girl, runner-up in the Allan Robertson Championship (SAf-I).
The market for the Golden Horse Sprint was headed by eventual runner-up Red Ray, who was sent off a 3-1 favorite. Next best in the betting were last year's winner Contador and past Winter Guineas (SAf-III) winner Readytogorightnow, the pair being sent off as 13-2 chances.
Normanz, who was a chance ride for Athandiwe Mgudlwa, was quoted at 16-1 while earning his first group I win. The 3-year-old gelding was coming off a smart win in the listed Full Flight Handicap, but was overlooked by many punters who preferred the chances of stablemate Contador.
The eventual winner was quick to go to the lead, when the field jumped for the 2014 Golden Horse Sprint.
Normanz raced clear from Mr Whatever, Barbosa, and Contador, with the field splitting into two groups. While Normanz led the main group, four horses headed by Happy Forever and Red Ray raced down the outside of the Scottsville track.
With 400 meters left to go, Normanz continued to gallop powerfully with Barbosa moving up to challenge.
Red Ray, who drifted in over the final stages of the race, tried gamely to get on terms with Normanz, but was still 1 1/2 lengths adrift at the finish. It was a smart effort from the runner-up, who gave Normanz 3.5 kilograms (about eight pounds), and looks well overdue for a first group I win.
Red Ray, a son of Western Winter, has now placed four times at the top level.
The top-class Whiteline Fever, who was conceding six kilograms (about 13 pounds) to the winner, ran a cracking race over a distance considered short of his best, when beaten 2 1/2 lengths into third place. He finished ahead of Happy Forever (another son of Var), and outsider Regal Eagle.
The result was a great one for jockey Mgudlwa, who was winning his first group I race.
Following Saturday's win, Normanz, who is out of the American Chance mare La Normandie, took his tally to five wins from 13 outings.
A confirmed front-runner, Normanz was a talented 2-year-old, whose juvenile victories included the Godolphin Barb (SAf-III). However, he lost his way after two unplaced efforts in group I features, and has taken time to recapture his best form.
The Avontuur Thoroughbred Farm-bred Normanz is one of seven group I winners sired by the Forest Wildcat horse Var, whose son, the dual South African Horse of the Year Variety Club won the recent Champions Mile (HK-I) at Sha Tin in Hong Kong.
Other highlights on the card included the talented Guiness landing one of South Africa's premier 2-year-old races, the Tsogo Sun Medalion. In winning, Guiness took his record to two wins from as many outings, with the colt becoming the first group winner for boom sire Seventh Rock (who won the same race in 2007).
Seventh Rock's sire, Rock of Gibraltar, has enjoyed tremendous success with his runners in South Africa.
"The Rock" was responsible for the first two fillies home in the Allan Robertson Championship for juvenile fillies. The Mike De Kock-trained Alborean Sea took her unbeaten run to two wins from as many outings at the expense of fellow Rock of Gibraltar filly Rich Country.