With the anticipated return clash of dual SA Horse Of The Year Legal Eagle and champion mare Nother Russia failing to materialise at Turffontein on Saturday, it was Robbie Sage’s Vodacom Durban July entry Coral Fever who came of age to register a big win in the R4 million Gr1 The Premier’s Champions Challenge.
The recent Gr2 Colorado King Stakes winner, Coral Fever has always been a horse that has somehow sailed just below the radar.
He will no doubt be taken more seriously after Saturday and there was further cause for celebration as he gave owner Colin Bird his maiden Gr1 success after 41 years of racing!
“Coral Fever has had some bad luck along the way but he ran a decent race in the Summer Cup and his prep has gone well since coming back from the Cape. He has a heart and is a trier,” trainer Robbie Sage told the Sporting Post, adding that horses who don’t attract attention from all quarters were a pleasure to train as there was ‘less pressure’.
We asked him if it was possible that Coral Fever, as a 5yo, was still improving and what the plans were.
“Confidence is an important aspect and maybe guys give up on horses too early some times. Coral Fever is an example of a horse that has come into his own as a 5yo. We have entered him for the July but a lot will depend on barrier draws and other factors – and we also need to consider his suitability to the Greyville track,” he said.
The progress that Coral Fever has made is particularly rewarding as the veteran trainer nursed him back from a career threatening spiral fracture early on.
Sage trained a feature double on the afternoon, with William The Silent winning the Gr2 SA Nursery earlier. He has saddled Gr1 winners but said the Champions Challenge is the highest value stakes race he has won.
Winning Form-sponsored Muzi Yeni knows Coral Fever well and had him settled near the rear as Legal Eagle carted the field along under replacement rider S’Manga Khumalo.
At the top of the straight Legal Eagle continued to gallop strongly, as Nother Russia and Abashiri made forward moves, with the Kotzen mare Silvan Star weaving her way through down at the rail.
Coral Fever and Triple Crown winner Abashiri came together at the 300m marker as Legal Eagle faded out and it was left to the pair to fight things out.
With Abashiri running a vastly improved race, Muzi Yeni rode confidently to get Coral Fever to rally and he went on to grab the big cheque by 0,25 lengths in a time of 122,15 secs.
Mike and Adam Azzie will be heartened by Abashiri’s improved run, while Cape visitor Silvan Star ran another excellent race to run into third.
Nother Russia has had a tough programme and this may have told as she plodded into fourth. This could be her swansong appearance.
Legal Eagle ran 8 lengths downfield in a very rare flat performance.
A R130 000 National Yearling Sale graduate, the Ascot Stud-bred Coral Fever races for Colin Bird and Sylvia Vrska and is a son of Judpot (AP Indy) out of the two-time winner, Coral Tree (Rich Man’s Gold).
Coral Fever has now won 6 races with 7 places from 20 starts for stakes of R3 545 650.
It was a good afternoon for Sharon Patterson’s Bayshore Barn, who not only backed and pre-trained Coral Fever as a youngster, but also gave Gr2 SA Oaks winner Secret Potion that all important early start.
Gr1 The Premier’s Champions Challenge (SAf-Gr1)
Turffontein, South Africa, May 5, R4 million, 2000m, turf, good, 2.02.15
1 – CORAL FEVER (SAF), 59.0, ch g 5, Judpot (USA) – Coral Tree (SAF) by Rich Man’s Gold (USA). Owner Ms Sylvia Vrska & Mr Colin Bird; Breeder Ascot Stud; trainer RR Sage; jockey M Yeni
2 – Abashiri (SAF), 58.0, b g 5, Go Deputy (USA) – Donya (SAF) by Elliodor (FR)
3 – Silvan Star (SAF), 55.5, b m 5, Silvano (GER) – Bold Choice (SAF) by Lecture (USA)
Margins: 0.25, 3.75, 1.25