Trainer Duncan Howells reacted with delight at the news that Via Africa’s yearling filly topped the prestigious Easter Sale in Sydney.
After all, he was the one who took the daughter of Var to dizzying heights during her star-studded racing career.
That the champion sprinter and a three-time Gr1 winner was one of Duncan’s favourites goes without saying.
“She was an angel and one of the easiest to work with. For a sprinter, she had the most amazing temperament.”
Via Africa was also blessed with an iron constitution.
Duncan added: “You know, for two years running she did consecutive Cape Town, KZN and Gauteng seasons. Strangely though, she always worked on her own. If I worked her with a companion, she just would not put it in.”
Voted the country’s Champion sprinter in 2014, Via Africa never finished off the boards in 16 starts and left for Dubai a triple Gr1 winner of ten races. Sadly, she failed to replicate that same brilliance in two subsequent starts and was sent to Australia.
“Such a pity that she ended up in Australia,” Duncan mused, “I told the owner not to take her to Dubai, but that’s racing I suppose.”
Needless to say, South Africa’s loss has been Australia’s gain. She became a Gr1 producer with her second foal, the Snitzel colt In The Congo, who clearly inherited his dam’s blistering speed and won the Gr1 The Golden Rose.
The announcement of his retirement to stud came a week before his yearling sibling’s star turn in the sales ring.
By the way, Via Africa was not the first of Duncan’s Gr1 winning fillies to be exported – that honour belongs to the Mogok filly Gypsy’s Warning.
Unlike Via Africa, she was a quirky individual and as Duncan recalls: “She was difficult in her box, she used to rear up and smash the infra-red lights. I can tell you, she never got another one after the third one.”
Be that as it may, Gypsy’s Warning won the Gr1 Thekwini Stakes as a juvenile from Zirconeum and Mother Russia.
Sold to Team Valor and transferred to Ormond Ferraris, she went on to win the Gr1 SA Fillies Classic prior to her departure for the States. She took to American racing like the proverbial duck to water and added a second Gr1 success with victory in the Gr1 Matriarch Stakes whilst running third in both the Gr1 Beverly D and Yellow Ribbon Stakes.
Sold to the Niarchos family, she never hit the same heights as a broodmare and produced just two modest winners from five known foals, the best of which French-raced daughter Snakeless, who ran fourth in the Listed Prix Coronation.
Via Africa’s success in the sales ring came hot on the heels of the Gr2 Hawaii Stakes, which went the way of Drakenstein homebred Trip Of Fortune.
A rare Cape Town-based winner of the Turffontein race, the four-year-old is out of Doowaley mare Louvre, who spent the latter part of her career racing from the Howells stable.
“She came to me from Weiho Marwing and was a tall, coarse mare,” Duncan recalls.
Although no oil painting, Louvre could run.
“She used to race from the front and was so honest, she always gave you 500%.”
Duncan trained her to her first stakes success, a win in the Gr2 Tibouchina Stakes, which came at the expense of none other than Espumanti, the dam of Durban July winner Sparkling Water.
Although that was her sole stakes success, Louvre raced in the best of company. Notable performances include her second in the Gr2 Ipi Tombe Challenge, where she went down by a head to Demanding Lady, who in due course became the dam of Charles Dickens and she also chased home Beach Beauty and Espumanti in the Gr1 Garden Province Stakes.
Louvre’s fine race record did not go unnoticed and at the end of her track career she was purchased by Drakenstein.
That came as no surprise, since the stud also owned Compass Point, a half-sister to Louvre’s grandam Prive. The daughter of Model Man was acquired after producing Gr1 Cape Guineas winner Pointing North and now features as the grandam of Drakenstein-bred Sand And Sea, winner of the Gr1 Gold Medallion for Dennis Drier.
Other Drakenstein acquisitions formerly trained by Duncan are Graded stakes winners Same Jurisdiction and My Sanctuary.
Raced in partnership, Same Jurisdiction won the Gr1 Thekwini Stakes in the colours of Ian van Schalkwyk, after which Drakenstein purchased a half-share in daughter of Mambo In Seattle.
A year later, she carried their blue and white silks to victory in the Gr1 Garden Province Stakes, defeating future Met winner Smart Call in the process.
She has yet to make an impact as a broodmare, unlike former stable companion My Sanctuary, who is dam of last season’s Champion three-year-old and Gr1 winner Safe Passage.
Snapped up for a paltry R55 000 as a yearling, the daughter of Antonius Pius won the Gr2 Debutante and as Duncan recalls:
“She was big, athletic filly, a typical sprinting type. Cathy bought her on spec and what a bargain she turned out to be. She was very headstrong and while she was fine in the box, she proved very difficult to get to the start. I still believe she turned Craig Zackey into a jockey!”
Antonius Pius also features as the sire of Duncan’s Gr3 Strelitzia winner Neptune’s Rain, who is now a member of the Wilgerbosdrift broodmare band, as are former stable companions, the Gr1-performed Fiorella and Dawn Calling.
“I’m disappointed that I never managed to win a Gr1 race with Neptune’s Rain,” Duncan admits. “I still feel the draw made the difference in the Allan Robertson, where she finished third.
“Fiorella was a very good filly. She won the Gr2 KZN Fillies Guineas and ran second to Oh Susanna in the Gr1 Woolavington. That was a very hard race, and she was never the same after that.”
Although Trippi’s daughter Dawn Calling failed to win a stakes race, she lost no honour in defeat, going down by a head in the Gr2 Golden Slipper and also ran second in the Gr1 Thekwini Stakes.
Next week’s National Yearling Sale looms large and in the days leading up to the sale, Cathy and Duncan are sure to inspect the latest progeny of their former stable stars.
Drakenstein will offer a What A Winter colt out of My Sanctuary, while the Wilgerbosdrift draft includes the first foals of Dawn Calling and Fiorella, colts by Fire Away and Flower Alley respectively, as well as the second foal out of Neptune’s Rain, a colt by Flower Alley.
Some trainers prove to be dab hands at getting the best out of fillies. Duncan’s track record clearly places him in that category.