Gr3 Joburg Spring Challenge F&M – Weliwtschia

Welwitschia returned with a thump when winning the Gr3 Joburg Spring Challenge f&m at Turffontein

Saturday’s Turffontein meeting proved to be yet another red letter occasion for Mike de Kock, with the champion trainer incidentally saddling the winners of all four Jackpot legs, and he would have been mightily pleased with the way Welwitschia returned from a six month absence to thump six rivals in the Joburg Spring Challenge for fillies and mares over 1450m on the inner course.

Welwitschia had not raced since finishing a well beaten second behind Dancewiththedevil in the Gr 1 Empress Club Stakes over 1600m in April and re-opposed that rival here, with the pair going off as 14/10 joint favourites in a WFA contest where punters showed little interest in any of the other four.  The distance looked too short for last season’s Gr 1 Summer Cup heroine Flirtation, while the rest simply appeared to be outclassed at the weights.

Carey’s Qui wasted little time in taking up the challenge and set a decent pace from Engagement and Welwitschia, with Chances Are next in line, but Dancewiththedevil was slow away and had to be rousted along in the early stages of the race to stay in touch with the main body of the field.  Carey’s Qui still led turning into the straight, but Welwitschia was already starting to launch her challenge and was moving ominously well.  De Kock’s filly soon swept into the lead and the race was as good as over inside the final 300m, with Welwitschia running on very strongly under Anthony Delpech to win by 2.25 lengths from Dancewiththedevil.

The latter appeared to race in snatches and would undoubtedly have been more effective on the standside course, but she was running on stoutly at the end even if she had no hope of catching her market rival and fans of St John Gray’s multiple Gr 1 winning mare should still have something to look forward to this season.  On paper the daughter of Modus Vivendi ran a long way below her best, for she was rated eight pounds superior to the winner, but 1450m on a relatively sharp track isn’t really her game and she would also have appreciated more cut in the ground.

Dancewiththedevil’s stable companion Engagement was only a neck further away in third despite facing her fellow Gray colour-bearer on 9.5 kgs worse terms than in a handicap, while Carey’s Qui finished a further half-a-length adrift in fourth.  Flirtation made no show, but this run should at least have helped to clear the cobwebs.

Welwitschia was bred in the UK to northern hemisphere time, and while her January birth date was early by northern standards she would still have been at a considerable disadvantage against her southern hemisphere-bred rivals last season.  All things considered, this comprehensive reversal of past form with Dancewiththedevil came as no big surprise and De Kock’s four-year-old should continue to progress during the season.  She has already shown that she easily stays 1600m and a bash at the Gr 2 Ipi Tombe Stakes over that distance at Turffontein in December could well be on the cards.  She would probably have to expect a stiffer challenge from Dancewiththedevil were the two to meet again in a race of that nature on the standside course, but Welwitschia’s best days are surely still to come and she is better than Gr 3 class.

Named after a plant which grows only in parts of the Namib desert, Welwitschia is by very successful UK sire Oasis Dream out of the Pursuit Of Love mare Maid For Romance, who was placed in her only racecourse appearance.  Owned by Mary Slack’s Wilgerbosdrift farm,. Welwitschia has won three times from five starts for stakes of R452 500 and is very much one to keep on the right side of this season.

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Spring Challenge f&m (SAf-G3) (10/8)
Turffontein, South Africa, October 8, R165.000, 1450m, turf, good, 1.26.47 (CR 1.25.80).
WELWITSCHIA (GB), 58.5, b f 4, Oasis Dream (GB) – Maid For Romance (GB) by Pursuit Of Love (GB). Owner Wilgerbosdrift; breeder Sparsholt Stud (GB); trainer M F de Kock; jockey A Delpech (R103.125)
Dancewiththedevil (SAF), 60.0, b m 5, Modus Vivendi (GB) – Emperor’s Dance (SAF) by Caesour
Engagement (SAF), 60.0, ch m 5, Announce (SAF) – Be My Gem (SAF) by Model Man (SAF)
Margins: 2¼, nk, ½
Also ran: Carey’s Qui (SAF) 59.5, Flirtation (SAF) 60.0, Chances Are (SAF) 59.5, Without Malice (SAF) 59.5, Madam Madonna (SAF) 59.5

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