An eclectic mix of royalty and thoroughbred champions past and present make for a grand day of racing at Turffontein on Saturday.
It takes a top-class equine athlete to win the R1 million Gr1 Empress Club Stakes and with Princess Charlene Of Monaco adding prestige and glamour in 2017, the title is likely to be fought out all the way down to the wire.
The weight-for-age mile has in years past carried the name of the late iconic owner Laurie Jaffee, who part owned the Argentinian-bred multiple SA champion Empress Club, a winner of 15 of 20 races, including eight Gr1’s.
Known as the ‘galloping goldmine’, she added the Gr3 Hillsborough Handicap to her CV when exported to the USA.
On Saturday sixteen high-quality females line up, with the classy Elusive Fort filly Fort Ember returning to her own company and jointly topping the SP ratings from a perfect draw with top man Anton Marcus in the irons.
Outgunned behind champion Legal Eagle last time in the Horse Chestnut, Fort Ember looks to build further on her eyecatching third in the Gr2 Hawaii Stakes at her return in early March.
The R60 000 bargain buy gets the headgear fitted here and looks perfectly placed to go all the way on Saturday.
The now 5yo Trophy Wife ran a very decent fifth in this race last year and caught the eye when chasing fleetfooted sprint star stablemate Carry On Alice home at her last pipe-opener.
This proven class daughter of Tiger Ridge only has to run to her best form to feature in the shake up.
The visitors have an excellent past record in this race and Justin Snaith hits the long road with narrow Majorca Stakes runner-up, Star Express.
Piere Strydom has been aboard at the daughter of Silvano’s hardknocking recent outings and Anthony Delpech steps into the breach this weekend.
While she is yet to register a minor stakes success, Star Express has been close enough to suggest she is a massive runner if enjoying and adapting to conditions in her first outing away from home.
Last season’s Gauteng Fillies Guineas winner Heaps Of Fun has not quite put things together as a 4yo and has had one quiet sprint prep since travelling to Durban as a well beaten favourite in the Flamboyant Stakes.
This could be a big race for stallion Elusive Fort as his 3yo daughter Safe Harbour looks the pick of the Tarry quintet and the biggest danger to Fort Ember.
This superbly talented galloper may have run one too many seconds for her connections’ liking but ran a gutsy chaser to Orchid Island in the SA Fillies Classic last time and should relish the 200m drop in ground.
She has had plenty of racing but her record speaks for itself and she will be high on everybody’s lists come Saturday, with the SA champion S’manga Khumalo up.
The high quality Judpot 4yo Juxtapose showed up well in her prep last time after a really courageous fifth in the Summer Cup at her penultimate start.
The lion-hearted SA Fillies Classic and Oaks winner of last term is likely to enjoy a more serious stamina test but can never be discounted.
The Gr2 Ipi Tombe Challenge winner Intergalactic ran a very decent prep when third behind stablemate Tahini and is now 3kgs better off. A decent chance from the draw.
Piere Strydom rode a peach of a race to win the Listed Jacaranda Handicap on the progressive Judpot filly, Polyphonic, and he is aboard again from a similarly poor draw.
She is probably marginally more effective over 200m further, but warrants her chance to win a Gr1 race.
KZN raider Bella Sonata looked a winner late in proceedings in the Acacia Handicap, when nabbed on the line by a flying Nother Russia.
The daughter of Silvano has a wide barrier gate to contend with here.
Tahini found form last time when receiving 3kgs and dishing out a 4 length walloping to Juxtapose who was having her first run in four months. This will be a bigger mountain to climb!
The Centenary is one of two mares in the field. This powerful front-runner may need it after a 19 week break from racing.
The enigmatically talented Negroamaro has not won a race in over 17 months but sparked last time when staying on behind Polyphonic in the Jacaranda Handicap.
This will be tougher and the Varsfontein galloper could well hold her again.
The 3yo Al Hawraa is the second of the De Kock trio and disappointed last time after a nice second in the Gauteng Fillies Guineas at her penultimate jump.
Andrew Fortune rides Acacia Handicap third placer Kilauea, who is 3,5kgs better off with Nother Russia for a 4 length beating. A stiff task from the gate.
The poorly drawn but gutsy Anna Pavlova was downfield in the Gauteng Fillies Guineas and has some ground to make up here.
The scintillating Gr3 Acacia Handicap winner Nother Russia is a highly vaunted daughter of 2005 winner Mother Russia but faces a tough task at weight-for-age in this company.
Recent season centenarian Craig Zackey rides her again from a nice draw and must be included if maintaining her improvement.
We are narrowing it down to a straight fight between the Elusive Fort daughters Fort Ember and Safe Harbour.
There are a few others who wouldn’t be winning it out of turn – like the Judpot pair of Juxtapose and Polyphonic.
And it doesn’t end there!