Brilliant 4-year-old filly Via Africa was an impressive winner of the 1 million rand (US$90,170) Cape Flying Championship (SAf-I) at Kenilworth Jan. 25.
Runner up in the Flying Championship last year, Via Africa was allowed to start at the relatively generous odds of 11-5 for the 1,000-meter (about five-furlong) race. Other fancied runners included 3-year-old Red Ray, who had run third in the Grand Parade Cape Guineas (SAf-I) two starts back, and the highly regarded Divine Jet, with the rest of the field at odds of 10-1 and upwards.
The flashy, white faced Via Africa was making her first start since she was a beaten favorite in the Tony Taberer Stakes (SAf-II) in December. She was found afterward to have been suffering from a lung infection.
After longshot Cape Royal refused to jump, the early stage of the Flying Championship was contested by the speedy pair Via Africa and Cap Alright. Copper Parade, Barbosa, and Captain’s Secret were also among the front group early on, ahead of Divine Jet and 3-year-old Zambezi Torrent. Well fancied Red Ray, however, raced at the back of the 13-horse field, and seemed outpaced.
Veteran jockey Kevin Shea, riding Via Afria for the second time, asked the filly to quicken at the 400-meter mark, and the bay miss duly did so. Cap Alright was unable to stay with Via Africa and faded, while Red Ray and 50-1 shot Tevez started to produce promising runs.
Via Africa kicked on well with a clear passage and galloped home strongly to procure a one-length victory over runner up Red Ray, with Tevez (a half brother to 2012 Cape Flying Championship winner Val De Ra), another a length away in third. The 40-1 outsider Happy Forever ran the best race of his career in fourth, beaten 3 1/4 lengths by the winner.
Shea told Racing Post, "She flew out of the gates and was immediately a length and a half clear. I could hear the others behind me but that was the last I saw of them. When I asked her at the two-furlong marker she gave me a kick and I knew she would be hard to catch."
A number of runners suffered rough trips, with jockey Sean Cormack electing to pull up the quietly fancied Natal raider Barbosa.
Runner up Red Ray looked unlucky not to get closer to the winning filly. The colt encountered traffic in the final stages of the race but still ran on strongly to post a good second to his year older rival. A son of ill-fated sire Western Winter, Red Ray looks a colt of exceptional ability, and he should pick a first grade I victory before the season ends.
Bred by Andre Hauptfleisch, who owns Via Africa in partnership with Albert Boshoff, Via Africa took her tally to eight wins from 13 starts. She has won two grade I races, having previously landed the 2013 Aouth Africa Fillies Sprint.
Winning trainer Duncan Howells, based in Kwa-Zulu Natal, was quick to praise Cape trainer Eric Sands after the race for looking after the filly and assisting in her comeback victory. It was a fine feat to get Via Africa back to winning ways after her well documented lung infection.
"She still had a slight cough during the week," Howells told Racing Post. "We had her scoped and, in consultation with the vet, we felt that she was developing allergies rather than the lung infection coming back. But the gamble of whether or not to run went on until 8 a.m. today when I finally made the call."
Via Africa was an exceptional 3-year-old, when she won five of seven outings and finished to champion sprinter What A Winter twice in grade I contests. Victory Saturday provided Via Africa with her second win in four outings as a Southern Hemisphere 4-year-old, having previously landed a conditions plate back in September.
A daughter of leading sire Var, sire of former Cape Flying Championship winner Val De Ra, Via Africa is the second winner produced by the three-time winning Qui Danzig mare Bump 'n Grind. Via Africa’s relatives include another winner of the Cape Flying Championship, champion sprinter Mythical Flight.
Future goals for the filly could include the Computaform Sprint (SAf-I) later in the year.