Paddock Stakes Thriller

Athina considered a desperately unlucky loser in scrappy race

Inara holds on to beat a flying Athina down the inside rail (Bay Media)

Inara holds on to beat a flying Athina down the inside rail (Bay Media)

The R1 million Maine Chance Farms Gr1 Paddock Stakes provided 23 year old jockey Grant Van Niekerk with a memorable career highlight at Kenilworth on Saturday as he rode a driving finish to clinch a thrilling narrow victory on the Drakenstein owned and bred Inara.

Inara’s victory was a welcome boost for the Mike Bass yard after Helderberg Blue’s failure to spark in the Gr2 Peninsula Handicap earlier in the day, while Grant Van Niekerk’s unbridled joy at riding his first Gr1 winner was tempered by a seven day ban for failing to ensure that he did not cause interference.

Grant van Niekerk

Grant Van Niekerk – first Gr1 winner

Van Niekerk is firmly entrenched in the national jockey log top ten around 8th position with 59 winners this season and is one of South Africa’s best young riding talents.

The result also proved something of an upset for exotic backers, with the fancied Jet Aglow and Inara’s stablemate Hammie’s Hooker failing to make the frame.

The tendency on the day for the jockeys to duck to the outside rail (precipitated rather accidentally it seems by some faulty equipment on Karl Neisius’ fourth race winner St Tropez!) created its own share of traffic issues. And Kenilworth’s summer course is supposed to be a ‘fair’ track.

The race was run at a fair clip as Ash Cloud led Pine Princess and Hammie’s Hooker, with Maybe Yes tucked away. Jet Aglow was 8 lengths behind early on.

Inara had battled to get in from her wide draw and Van Niekerk can be clearly seen cheekily forcing his way in front of Jet Belle in the back straight.

Into the home straight, they came to the outside rail again as Bernard Fayd’herbe brought Hammie’s Hooker forward.

The smart daughter of Trippi hit the front at the 300m chased by Jet Aglow  but in a matter of strides, Inara was low flying, pursued by Jet Belle and Athina.

The three stormed to the line but under a driving and determined ride by Van Niekerk, Inara hung on to win by a short head.

For the umpteenth time on the afternoon, no time was taken for the race.

Joey Soma’s Gauteng visitor Athina came from many lengths last into the home run to weave her way through under Piere Strydom – only to be narrowly denied. A terrific run.

Jet Belle stayed on for third a further head away and can be considered a trifle unlucky – she was the real victim of the traffic problems. The narrow margin of her defeat may well have justified an objection by her connections, even though the interference admittedly occurred some way out – and they both run in the Drakenstein blue.

Winning rider Grant Van Niekerk was naturally thrilled, but seemed oblivious to the trauma he had caused during the running: “I was quite badly squeezed going for a run. But she quickened well and it just goes to show just how good Majmu is!” he said in a reference to Inara’s second to the De Kock star in the Avontuur Fillies Guineas.

Inara was bred by Drakenstein Stud and is a 3yo daughter of Trippi out of the very well related Shirley Heights mare, Mountains Of Mist.

Inara has now won 2 races with 4 places from 7 starts and boosted her earnings to R905 325.

Excerpt from official Stipes Report:

Approaching the 1100m JET BELLE (G Cheyne) was forced to ease off the heels of INARA (G van Niekerk), which shifted in when insufficiently clear.   Jockey G van Niekerk (INARA) was charged with a contravention of Rule 62.2.7, in that he failed to ensure that he did not cause interference to JET BELLE when he shifted ground approaching the 1100m. Jockey G van Niekerk signed an admission of guilt and was suspended from riding in races for a period of 7 days. (Dates to be advised.)

The field elected to race on the outside running rail upon entering the straight and JET SUPREME (K Neisisus), which was racing behind and to the outside of HAMMIE’S HOOKER (B Fayd’herbe) became baulked on the outside running rail approaching the 500m and was forced to ease. JET BELLE (G Cheyne) was held up for a run for a number of strides.

INARA (G van Niekerk) switched in leaving the 300m to obtain a clear run.


Gr1 Paddock Stakes  (SAf-Gr1)

Kenilworth, South Africa, January 10, R1 million, 1800m, turf, good, 1.51.41

1 – INARA (SAF), 54.0, b f 3, Trippi (USA) – Mountains Of Mist (IRE) by Shirley Heights (GB). Owner Drakenstein Stud (Nom: Mrs G A Rupert); Breeder Drakenstein Stud; trainer MW Bass; jockey G v Niekerk
2 – Athina (SAF), 59.5, b f 4, Fort Wood (USA) – The Heiress (SAF) by Rich Man’s Gold (USA)
3 – Jet Belle (SAF), 60.0, b m 5, Jet Master (SAF) – Bella Bianca (ARG) by Ahmad (ARG)
Margins: 0.20, 0.20, 2.50

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