A gelding with a fairytale back story and a turn of foot to launch rockets, Candice Bass-Robinson’s 2019 Cape Merchants winner Russet Air overshadowed the big guns and produced a flash of speed down the inside rail to gain a narrow victory in Saturday’s R1 Million Gr1 Cape Flying Championship.
Part-owner Mike Bass trained Russet Air’s Equus Champion sire What A Winter to victory in this race in 2011, with the speed king toppled by Avontuur champion Val De Ra in 2012, before he bounced back to claim the prestigious prize in 2013.
Bred by Lammerskraal Stud, Russet Air had such bad legs, including a badly off-set knee, that he would never have been allowed near a sales ring – before part owner Brian Finch fell in love with him on the farm and initiated the dream outcome.
And on Saturday he really looked to have it all to do over the 1000m against defending champion Kasimir and the unbeaten Australian-bred filly Run Fox Run.
But with Aldo Domeyer riding at the top of his game, Russet Air started at 25-1 and got the verdict on the photo in a Bipot knockout with Brett Crawford third-stringer Bold Respect (20-1) who tried his heart out.
The field raced in three groups, as Pleasedtomeetyou beat a lonely path up the outside with Celestial Storm and PE raider Princess Rebel flashing their speed.
Russet Air raced alone near the rear down the inside for much of the race and even at the 350m had five lengths to make up as Bold Respect slipped into the lead with Run For Run and Kasimir – switched out violently for a clear run at the 250m making their bid.
Almost as if sneaking up from out of the shadows, Russet Air stormed down the rail with Kasimir outpaced and making late progress into third.
Russet Air registered a time of 58,2 secs. The gallant Bold Respect, who ran second in 2019, was again relegated to the dogbox sadly.
The anticipated major players Kasimir and Run Fox Run made up the quartet.
Russet Air was bred by Lammerskraal and is the product of two Equus Champions. He is by star sprinter What A Winter (Western Winter) out of Jallad’s nine time winner and Oaks victress, Icy Air.
Raced in partnership by Mike Bass, Marsh Shirtliff and Brian and Kathy Finch, Russet Air has won5 races with 6 places from 15 starts for stakes of R1 124 150.
Gr1 Cape Flying Championship (SAf-Gr1)
Kenilworth, South Africa, February 1, R1 million, 1000m, turf, good, 58.02
1 – RUSSET AIR (SAF), 60.0, b g 4, What A Winter (SAF) – Icy Air (SAF) by Jallad (USA). Owner Messrs M W Bass, B P Finch & N M Shirtliff & Mrs K Finch; Breeder Lammerskraal Stud; trainer C Bass-Robinson; jockey A Domeyer
2 – Bold Respect (SAF), 60.0, b g 5, Bold Silvano (SAF) – Respectable Lady (SAF) by Kabool (GB)
3 – Kasimir (SAF), 60.0, b g 5, Captain Al (SAF) – Aquatint (AUS) by Peintre Celebre (USA)
Margins: 0.05, 0.75, 0.40