Gr1 Cape Flying Championship

What A Winter wins, and 1-2-3 for Mike Bass

EASY AS 1-2-3

The Cape Flying Championship at Kenilworth on Saturday was completely dominated by the Mike Bass yard, which sent out the first three finishers to this 1000m event when What A Winter confirmed his potential as a speed horse of rare promise by running out a comfortable winner at the expense of two of the three stable companions who opposed him in Cape Town’s premier sprint.

Charles Laird was without a runner this year after almost dominating the Cape Flying Championship with the likes of Nhlavini, Rebel King and Warm White Night in recent times, and it was Mike de Kock’s Gibraltar Blue who was sent out favourite to uphold the fine record of visiting horses in this contest.  Those who take the trouble to count these things discerned that the Flying Championship is one of only three South African Gr 1 races that De Kock has never won, which is fair enough considering that Gibraltar Blue was his first ever runner in it.  The Rock Of Gibraltar filly arrived with excellent form over distances ranging from 1000m to 1600m and was supported here as if defeat was impossible.  She went off as the 13/20 favourite from an ante-post call of 15/10, with What A Winter easing from 2/1 to 33/10 but starting as a very clear second favourite in a field of thirteen.  None of the others attracted a great deal of interest, although the somewhat unpredictable but undoubtedly talented Bush Pirate found a few supporters at long odds.

As could easily have been predicted, there was no shortage of early speed despite a fresh headwind and it was Bass-trained Gaultier who showed up narrowly from Villandry and Gibraltar Blue in the initial stages.  Magico was also very quick up against the outside rail, with What A Winter biding his time several lengths off the action.  Gibraltar Blue had every chance when she came through to mount her bid inside the last 300m, but What A Winter was already starting to make good headway on the inside of the pack, and a furlong from home Bass’ colt looked to be going much the best of them all.

Gibraltar Blue didn’t find a great deal extra in the final stages, but What A Winter had already wrapped the race up and ran on well under Karl Neisius to win by 1.25 lengths.  Stable companions Rushing Wind and Blue Tiger finished strongly from virtually nowhere to get closest to the winner, with only a neck separating them, while Royal Bounty also stayed on and was only a head further behind the faster finishing Blue Tiger in fourth.  Gibraltar Blue eventually finished fifth, 2.35 lengths behind the winner, with Bush Pirate making late headway to be beaten 2.60 lengths behind What A Winter, although only finishing eighth in another of those bunched finishes which have characterised a good number of major races at the Cape this summer.

This was only Gibraltar Blue’s second defeat from seven South African appearances.  The fact that they both came on the only two occasions that she competed in Gr 1 races seems to say something about the gap which should exist between races at the highest level and those one notch down if the Graded Races committee does its job correctly, but in truth 1000m against high class male opposition is perhaps too sharp for Gibraltar Blue.  She seemed to be beaten for a finishing kick more than anything else, and will quickly get another chance to win a Gr 1 race when she contests the Klawervlei Majorca Stakes over 1600m on J & B Met day this weekend.

Rushing Wind was finishing with great gusto, even if his effort came too late to pose any threat to What A Winter, and it shows Mike Bass’ gelding to be in fine fettle ahead of his tilt at the J & B Met.  Blue Tiger, already runner-up in the Cape Flying Championship in 2009 and 2010 and still chasing an elusive first Gr 1 success, put up another fine effort, but the clock is ticking and the six-year-old won’t get too many more realistic opportunities to win in the highest grade.  He certainly deserves it, though.

Those who know him best have always evidently believed that What A Winter is a top class sprinter who might stay a mile, rather than a true miler per se.  He managed to win the rather slowly-run Gr 2 Selangor Cup over 1600m before failing to follow up in the Gr 1 Cape Guineas, but the three-year-old has never come particularly close to being beaten over a straight course.  He produced the impressive turn of foot which has been a hallmark of his career right from the start, and while there may be a relative paucity of high class sprinters around at present there seems no doubt that What A Winter is the real deal.  Presumably, the big sprints of the KZN winter season beckon.

Comparisons with J J The Jet Plane are inevitable, if only for the reason that JJ was also tried over middle distances before returning to sprinting with deadly effect.  It is too soon to suggest that What A Winter is in the same league, but it is hardly as ridiculous as those countless “is this the next Horse Chestnut” scenarios that we’ve had to put up with for more than a decade.  What A Winter has not been seriously threatened with defeat in races up to 1200m, from maiden to Gr 1 class, and there is no way of telling just how deep those pools of talent really run.  Deep enough that you’d need at least two scuba tanks to reach the bottom – but they may be a good deal deeper still.

What A Winter is a colt by Western Winter, whose progeny have been enjoying a terrific Cape season this term.  He is the tenth foal and seventh winner of Irish-bred Ahonoora mare Waseela, who never raced but who was also the dam of ill-fated dual Gr 3 winning and Gr 1 placed sprinter What A Question.  Waseela was also the dam of a Listed winner in Germany before she was imported.  What A Winter’s third dam Hayloft produced Irish 2000 Guineas winner Wassl.  Bred at Daytona Stud and acquired privately from the farm, What A Winter has won five of his seven starts and earned R765 769.

Betting World Cape Flying Ch’ship (SAf-G1) (1/22)

Kenilworth, South Africa, January 22, R600.000, 1000m, turf, good, 58.87 (CR 56.67).

WHAT A WINTER (SAF), 56.5, b c 3, Western Winter (USA) – Waseela (IRE) by Ahonoora (IRE). Owner G N Shirtliff, M W Bass, B Ressell & N M Shirtliff; breeder Daytona Stud (SAF); trainer MW Bass; jockey K Neisius (R397.826)

Rushing Wind (SAF), 60.0, b g 5, Windrush (USA) – Nordic Vine (SAF) by Northern Guest

Blue Tiger (SAF), 60.0, gr h 6, Counter Action (SAF) – Manuka (SAF) by Rainbow Dream (FR)

Margins: 1¼, nk, sh hd

Also ran: Royal Bounty (SAF) 60.0, Gibraltar Blue (IRE) 57.5, Bush Pirate (SAF) 60.0, Magico (SAF) 56.5, August Rush (SAF) 60.0, Gaultier (SAF) 60.0, Earl Of Surrey (ZIM) 60.0, Casey Cool (SAF) 60.0, Villandry (SAF) 60.0, Sculptor (SAF) 60.0

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