Gr1 Majorca Stakes: Promise Fulfilled

Majorca Stakes: Covenant stays a mile!

“At one stage I thought she was limited to 1000m,” confessed Mike Bass after Covenant had coped splendidly with a step up in distance and won the Klawervlei Majorca Stakes over 1600m at Kenilworth on Saturday.  Therein lies a tale.  You never stop learning with horses, even when you’re one of the best trainers ever to ply the trade.  This may come as something of a surprise to those who think holding a trainer’s licence somehow should endow one with psychic powers, but it is no surprise at all to those who understand that a horse is not just a number, writes Matthew Lips.

The decision to step Covenant beyond 1200m for the first time and have a tilt at the Majorca instead of taking on stable companion What A Winter in the previous weekend’s Cape Flying Championship over 1000m was made largely on the recommendation of veteran jockey Karl Neisius, who rode Covenant in a mile gallop and expressed confidence that she would get the distance under race conditions.  Already successful in the Gr 2 Southern Cross Stakes over 1000m and the Gr 2 Sceptre Stakes over 1200m this summer, Covenant was a well supported 4/1 third favourite for the Majorca, a WFA event for fillies and mares.  Gibraltar Blue eased from an ante-post call of 12/10 but still went off as the 22/10 favourite, with Covenant’s stable companion Love Is In The Air the 28/10 second choice to win a race in which she had shared first prize with Gluwein twelve months earlier.

The early pace was decent enough, with Gibraltar Blue doing the only thing she knows and setting off for an immediate lead.  She showed the way to A Daughters Legacy and Emerald Cove, with Covenant (who’d jumped from the 1 gate) perfectly position at the rail in fourth.  Dance With Al settled into fifth after being one of the first to break the line.  Imperious Star was ridden from off the pace for a change, with Love Is In The Air also held up some way adrift of the frontrunner.

Gibraltar Blue had an advantage of some three lengths turning for home into a freshening headwind, with Emerald Cove and Covenant closest to her as A Daughters Legacy began to give ground.  The favourite still had a commanding advantage coming to the final 200m, despite a tendency to drift right, and for most of the way it appeared that Gibraltar Blue would carry on going to win.  Covenant and Love Is In The Air both began to eat into her advantage from 100m out, though, and when Gibraltar Blue ran out of gas in the final strides they both went on by.  It was Covenant who ran on well to win by half-a-length from stable companion Love Is In The Air, with Gibraltar Blue a neck further away in third.  Emerald Cove had every chance before finishing 1.25 lengths behind Gibraltar Blue in fourth.  Imperious Star was never seen with a chance and continues to perform well below her top notch KZN form of last winter.

It seems fairly plain that 1600m in good company is something of a stretch for Gibraltar Blue, especially as she knows only one way of racing and that is to do it the hard way.  She was the winner until well inside the last 100m and that first Gr 1 success could yet come for Mike de Kock’s Irish-bred filly before very much longer.   For Covenant, this Gr 1 win at the first attempt will have sent her already enormous paddock value right into the stratosphere.  There can be few better-bred fillies in our stud book than this daughter of Western Winter, who is a half sister to dual Gr 1 winner Promisefrommyheart and to Secret Heart, the dam of last season’s top class American two-year-old Pluck.  This is the immediate family of London News, Kings Gambit, and a host of other top class performers and any offers for Covenant would have to contain enough zeroes to make us mere mortals feel faint.  In US dollars, that is.

The result clearly vindicated Karl Neisius’ faith in Covenant’s stamina.  “I always had the favourite in my sights, this is a super filly,” he noted afterwards.  “Karl was confident that she would get the trip,” said the winning trainer, adding that Covenant “is getting better all the time.”  Collateral form through Emerald Cove would still suggest that Covenant is a few lengths below her ultra-promising contemporary Ebony Flyer, but there’s no disgrace in that.  Covenant was bred by her owners the Varsfontein Stud and has won five times from eight starts for R658 350 in stakes.


Klawervlei Majorca S. (SAf-G1) (1/29)

Kenilworth, South Africa, January 29, R500.000, 1600m, turf, good, 1.38.62 (CR 1.36.20).

COVENANT (SAF), 55.0, b f 3, Western Winter – Secret Pact (SAF) by Bush Telegraph (SAF). Owner & breeder Varsfontein Stud (SAF); trainer M W Bass; jockey K Neisius (R312.500)

Love Is In The Air (SAF), 60.0, b m 5, Jet Master (SAF) – Careful Step (SAF) by Jungle Cove

Gibraltar Blue (IRE), 59.5, ch f 4, Rock of Gibraltar (IRE) – Holly Blue (GB) by Bluebird

Margins: ½, nk, 1¼

Also ran: Emerald Cove (SAF) 55.0, On Her Toes (SAF) 60.0, Dance With Al (SAF) 60.0, Queen Mira (AUS) 60.0, Townsend (SAF) 60.0, Reconcile (SAF) 60.0, Imperious Star (SAF) 60.0, Field Flower (SAF) 60.0, Sunsational (SAF) 60.0, A Daughters Legacy (SAF) 60.0

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