Cape trainers Glen Kotzen and Justin Snaith hold all the aces in the R500 000 Gr1 Garden Province Stakes to be run over a mile at Greyville on Saturday. Kotzen’s Princess Victoria takes centre stage to show that her SA Fillies Sprint disappointment had more to do with the racing surface on the day, than her five-star ability.
There has been much speculation about various performances on the Golden Horse Casino Sprint afternoon, and an inappropriately conditioned track appears to be the generally accepted verdict and the catalyst for some serious form swings.
Justin Snaith was one trainer not whinging that Saturday afternoon in May when his superb Jet Master four year old Ebony Flyer bounced back from a four month rest after winning the Gr1 Majorca Stakes on Met day , to beat the well-performed Welwitschia by a length.
The 9-10 favourite Princess Victoria found herself on the opposite side of the track and never produced a spark of what she is capable of to finish 4,75 lengths behind. Princess Victoria was receiving 1,5kgs from the big Snaith machine.
The usual recriminations followed but Princess Victoria shut the critics up in resounding fashion when cruising to victory in the Gr2 Tibouchina Stakes over 1450m at Clairwood two weeks later. She gave Welwitschia a 2,35 length hammering in the process.
Kotzen probably has the psychological upper-hand and he won this race in 2009 with the Western Winter filly Lady Windermere who got the better of the Snaith’s Sparkling Gem in a tight finish. And while that is by and large statistical history, one has the feeling that we are going to see a huge effort from the three year old Princess Victoria.
Anton Marcus has been booked to ride the Princess for the first time on Saturday, after regular jockey Sean Cormack had declared his intentions to take up a new contract with the powerful Dennis Drier string. While Cormack rode her six times with great success and knew her well, it goes without saying that Marcus is a most capable and exciting replacement.
Adding to the spectacle of what could turn into a match race, Ebony Flyer jumps right next door to Princess Victoria. The pace should be on from the break and Wendy Whitehead’s three year old Captain Al filly Reason To Believe is one of those who should ensure that they all stay honest. One gamest horses in training, she is game as anything and never finishes far off the action. She jumps from a 2 draw with the services of the powerful Richard Fourie and if one looks at her excellent effort at her penultimate start in the KZN Fillies Guineas over this course and distance, when only caught late by Amanee, she must be a place factor if things go her way.
Frequent Flyer and Happy Archer are both bang in form, and would not be outlandish victors if the top two fillies have an off day.
Brett Crawford is having a terrific season and while both Ebony Flyer and Princess Victoria have the measure of his Silvano four year old Frequent Flyer, there are fewer consistent horses around. A winner of five of her fifteen starts with eight places recorded, the lightly-raced Frequent Flyer ran third in the Tibouchina and 2,25 lengths behind Princess Victoria and should be fit and ready for a solid challenge here.
Happy Archer is one of two Tarry runners and was a surprise 11-1 winner of this race last year, when getting the better of Beach Beauty. She has surprisingly only managed one win in the ensuing period, and while that was at her last start two weeks ago, we can assume that she is fit and possibly reaching peak form. We do note that Anton Marcus gets off her to ride Princess Victoria.
Felix The Cat is a lightly raced daughter of Black Minnaloushe who has not entirely fulfilled the promise she showed as a juvenile when running second places in the Golden Slipper and the Thekwini Stakes. She ran a fair third one length off Amanee in the Fillies Guineas, but then may have found the Woolavington on the far side when fading out to finish unplaced. She appears held here by the top three.
Champion jockey Jeff Lloyd would have travelled a long way to do duty for the Mike Bass yard on this big race-day, but will probably not regard the Tiger Ridge filly Mombasa as one of his better ones on the afternoon. She did, however, run a cracker at 35-1 when staying on best behind Princess Victoria in the Gr2 Tibouchina Stakes run over 1450m at Clairwood three weeks ago. She beat Frequent Flyer and Welwitschia at level weights there, as well as Reason To Believe to whom she was giving 1,5kgs.Mombasa will have to confirm the form of that run.
Much has been speculated about Sean Cormack’s parting company with Princess Victoria, and the quietly spoken rider will lack for no motivation when he jumps Secret Babe from the distant reaches of a 15 stall-gate for his new boss, Dennis Drier. Cormack knows the Labeeb mare well enough, and while the four-time winner is probably just off the better ones, she could run into a place.
St John Gray’s Announce mare Engagement will have to be taken on trust as far as fitness is concerned, as she returns from a seven month rest. A glance at her formline, which shows six wins from nineteen starts, may set a warning bell going. She ran an excellent second to Pierre Jourdan in the November Handicap, and then came out a month later to finish a 7,75 lengths fourth to Dubai-bound Igugu in the Ipi Tombe. She was getting three kilos from the Triple Tiara winner, but both efforts confirmed her above average ability. She is well drawn here and must have a place chance if not needing the run.
Veteran Capetonian Karl Neisius has a rare ride for Barend Botes and he jumps aboard the Count Dubois filly Up Front, who has the distinction of having run a terrific second to Princess Victoria in the 2011 Allan Robertson Championship. She then ran unplaced in the Golden Slipper on July day, but had excuses as she choked up in running. She has won her two subsequent starts since then and could really be anything. She is not too well drawn at 11, but Neisius doesn’t ride for the sake of practice, and she could warrant inclusion.
The rest look hard-pressed and the 2012 running of this event should produce an entertaining contest. It is after all a rare pleasurable moment when two champion fillies face up to each other.
The master magician Andrew Fortune told us a year ago that Princess Victoria is probably the best he has sat on. That’s good enough for us. And Princess Victoria looks to have had the perfect preparation too. On the basis that Ebony Flyer has had her issues health-wise, we are going with the Victory Moon three year old to win this convincingly. Young Snaith could prove us wrong.
Reason To Believe always gives of her best and she is the trifecta kicker ahead of the likes of Happy Archer, Frequent Flyer and the Gauteng dark-horse Up Front.