By Sarah Whitelaw
Favored Happy Valentine proved a classy winner of South Africa's Allan Robertson Championship May 25, one of four group I sprints at 1,200 meters at Scottsville Racecourse in Kwa Zulu Natal.
The first of the feature races, the Allan Robertson Championship was for 2-year-old fillies.
Bred by Maine Chance Farms, unbeaten Happy Valentine was always handy under jockey Sean Veale in defeating 13 rivals. The Silvano filly drew clear over the final 200 meters to record a 3 1/4-length win over 9-1 shot Along Came Polly (by promising first season sire Judpot, a half-brother to Kingmambo). Happy Valentine placed six lengths between herself and third-placed finisher Masked Lady.
Happy Valentine was a convincing 5 1/2-length winner of her only previous outing.
Trained by 2-year-old specialist Vaughan Marshall, who won this race last year with champion filly All Is Secret, Happy Valentine is owned by Chemaly and O'Brien.
The Allan Robertson was followed by a contest for juvenile colts and fillies, the Tsogo Gold Medallion, won in an upset by 9-1 shot Captain Of All. He defeated a field that included last start South Africa Nursery (SAf-I) winner Willow Magic and the promising Var colt Normanz.
Captain Of All gave trainer Dennis Drier and breeder Riverton Stud a remarkable Medallion double, as the team had paired up to win this race in 2012 with the now Hong Kong based Potent Power.
Ridden by Sean Cormack, the Captain Al colt had previously won his maiden in facile fashion, but was taking a big step up in class.
However, the colt proved far too strong for favorite Willow Magic, and placed a length between himself and the Dubawi colt in the finish of the 1,200-meter race. The well-bred Captain's Reserve, another son of top sire Captain Al, was six lengths back in third, with the well-fancied Normanz trailing in a disappointing 11th.
Captain of All was one of two group I winners on the day for leading owners Markus and Ingrid Jooste. They also own Contador, upset winner of the Golden Horse Sprint.
One of the most interesting, and competitive races, on Saturday's card came in the South Africa Fillies Sprint.
Classy filly Via Africa was sent out a favorite despite having to contend with a field that included two champions (Princess Victoria and All Is Secret), recent Fillies Guineas winner Festival of Fire, and the smart Oasis Dream filly Welwitschia.
Via Africa was coming off a cracking second to champion sprinter What a Winter in the Computform Sprint (SAf-I), but was trying the 1200-meter distance for the first time.
Under a confident ride from regular partner Alec Forbes, the white-faced Via Africa made all the running to score her initial grade I. The filly, who had been subject to a large number of offers from would-be buyers during the season, has been exceptionally consistent; she has won or been second in all nine of her outings.
Bred by part-owner Andre Hauptfleisch, Via Africa is a daughter of outstanding sire Var and the three-time winning Qui Danzig mare Bump N Grind.
Trainer Duncan Howells was speechless after the race, describing his filly was "much faster than any filly in the country."
The Forest Wildcat stallion Var was back in the headlines after his son Contador won the afternoon's main feature, the Golden Horse Sprint.
Recently gelded after a shocking last effort, Contador was nicely weighted in the 1200-meter contest, carrying just 53.5 kilograms. However, his last run put many punters off, and the gelding was sent off an 11-1 shot behind more fancied runners Tevez, Snowdon, and Royal Zulu Warrior. However, the finish to a contest previously won by such champions as Jet Master and J J The Jet Plane was dominated by relative outsiders.
Contador, who jumped nicely under the careful handling of champion jockey Piere Strydom, ran on strongly from off the pace, and the 3-year-old got the better of 14-1 outsider Wild Type, who was beaten a length into second place. Third home came the well bred Merhee, a half-brother to former UAE Derby winner Musir, with the more fancied runners failing to feature. It was a sweet win for Strydom, currently heading the South Africa jockey standings. He had earlier in the day been second to Captain of All in the Tsogo Medallion.
Bred by Avontuur's stud manager Pippa Mickleburgh, Contador provided trainer Charles Laird with a remarkable eighth group I success at the Scottsville track. The gelding, who had earlier in the season reeled off three consecutive wins including a minor feature, is the sixth grade I winner for his sire Var.
The 2013 Golden Horse Sprint winner is out of the Fort Wood mare Fine Wood, who hails from the family of former South Africa Horse of the Year Roland's Song.