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Blame It On Rio!

What a week. What a thrill, And what a team!

First run 51 years ago as the Castrol Sprint, the Gr1 Computaform Sprint is rated amongst South African racing’s prestigious tests of speed.

With only a relative handful of horses to race here, British owner Dr Jill Warner celebrated a very special second victory in the 1000m contest in the space of just five years, last Saturday.

We all have fond memories of the Sean Tarry speed machine Carry On Alice. The Klawervlei Stud-bred flyer blitzed to victory in the Computaform Sprint in a time of 55,74 secs under 57,5 kgs on 30 April 2016 to register her then third Gr1 success.

Winners! Prof John Warner, Dr Jill Warner, Grant van Niekerk and Justin Snaith (Pic- Chase Liebenberg)

It was a deserved victory – the previous year the daughter of Captain Al, who raced in a partnership of Dr Warner, Chris van Niekerk and Klawervlei Stud, had been runner-up behind Alboran Sea.

On Saturday, Jill Warner again featured in the Gr1. This time it was with partners Richard Edmondson and Bryn Ressell, as the Normandy Stud-bred Rio Querari lumped his 60kgs on ground with some give, to win in 56,03 secs.

Saddled by Justin Snaith, the son of Querari raided from Summerveld, and showed no signs of the step-up in altitude to assert his status as our leading sprinter.

An Immunologist by profession, Dr Jill and her Pediatrician hubby, Professor John Warner, who live between their homes in Winchester, Hampshire, and Val De Vie in Paarl, and are Honorary post-graduates of UCT, were on course to enjoy the great moment.

They arrived at Turffontein having spent a few days in the Pilanesburg – the patch of paradise that kick-started their love affair with South Africa 27 years ago.

Grant van Niekerk glances right as Bohica chases hard (Pic – Chase Liebenberg)

“What a week. What a thrill, And what a team! A top horse, a top trainer in Justin Snaith, a top jockey in Grant van Niekerk, and a very important key man in Groom Nkosi Lwazi Mojodina. We are in awe of the synergy and connection between Nkosi and Rio. From the Muizenberg Beach outings.  to the stables and the racetrack, Nkosi is one of the most dedicated professionals we have had the pleasure of dealing with. He has an amazing connection with this wonderful athlete.”

And when it comes to horses, Jill, who grew up in Britain as a pony clubber from the age of 4, should know a thing or two.

While her husband didn’t frequent the same equine crazy culture in his youth, he quickly learnt to appreciate horses. That was his one chance to spend more time with the lady who would become his wife.

Today Jill has called it time on the polo, while John is still active on the beautifully manicured fields of Val De Vie estate, the ‘Valley Of Life’ that they regard as their much-loved, ‘home from home.’

Polo at the Warner’s home base, Val De Vie

“I found that the better one got at polo, the faster and more demanding the game became. So for me it’s dressage now. So I really do still love my horses as much as I did as young child,” says Jill as she tells about her great enjoyment of South African racing.

And she says that their grown-up daughters Abigail and Olivia, who have changed the family direction from medicine to the performing arts, are just as much in love with this country.

“We have raced overseas. Simon Dow was a top professional and trained for us at Epsom. But nothing beats the all-inclusive nature of racing here in South Africa. In England, unless you are racing top horses at the top level all the time, it’s difficult to really feel a part of it and it’s ‘cliquey’! But we have made so many friends here in South Africa. That’s at all levels. A maiden runner at Durbanville in midweek is a great day out, and one derives so much fun and pleasure from it. South African racing is special. We love it and we love the country,” she says enthusiastically.

The Warner’s extraordinary gallop to glory started in 2013 with a chance visit to Klawervlei Stud.

Klawervlei Stud (photo: Klawervlei)

“We’d been having a particularly busy time at work and decided we needed a really organised holiday where we could just go along and someone else would run everything. We went to Horse Racing Abroad, which is now part of ITC Travel and they had this fantastic trip to South Africa. It consisted of 20 couples and included a trip to the 2013 Met, a stud visit and some sight-seeing around Cape Town. It sounded perfect. Unfortunately that year the Met date was moved rather last minute. So other than ourselves and one other couple, the rest of our tour group cancelled their bookings. We couldn’t change our dates and instead of 40, there ended up being 4 of us on the trip.”

But sometimes things are meant to be – and the touring quartet landed up at the Bonnievale nursery of champions.

“John Koster showed us around and introduced us to Captain Al. He took us out for a lovely lunch at Van Loveren, where the conversation turned to golf – a sport I know nothing about. John noticed I was bored and handed me a sales catalogue.

“I think you will probably enjoy reading that more than this conversation!” he quipped.

“At that stage I knew nothing about SA racing or breeding. But paging through the catalogue, I got to Carry On Alice. I cannot tell you why, but the page was shouting at me. I turned to John and said if we were going to buy, it would be that one. He said she was the one horse on their draft he really didn’t want to sell.”

Carry On Alice wins the 2016 Computaform Sprint  (Pic- JC Photos)

The rest is history. Carry On Alice was to go on and become SA Equus Champion Older Filly/Mare and Sprinter in 2016/ 17. She won Gr1 races at 2,3,4, and 5 and earned in 24 of her 29 outings.

Today the champion is at stud in Australia where she has produced two beautiful colts by champion Snitzel.

Jill laughs when we ask if they are still involved in the mare that took them on that glorious ride.

“Of course. She is our darling!”

And they have two other Captain Al mares here. Both are in foal for the first time.

“We also have a Horse Chestnut mare whose first offspring recently won in KZN. The thrill of watching a horse that you have bred win is a very special one!”

Thrilled for the Warners, Normandy’s Oscar Foulkes pointed out to us that Saturday’s impressive 4Racing Gr2 Gerald Rosenberg Stakes winner, and now a Vodacom Durban July fancy, Netta is from the same tail female line as Rio Querari.

Oscar and Veronica Foulkes – bred Rio Querari  (photo: Wayne Marks)

Saturday’s Gr1 win by Rio Querari all dates back to Normandy matriarch Veronica Foulkes’ purchase of the unraced Northern Guest mare, Nordic Vine, a little over 20 years ago.  She was out of the stakes-winning mare Montrachet, a full-sister to the Gr1 winning Yquem, and therefore from one of Jan de Clercq’s top families.

Nordic Vine produced the last of her 14 foals at the age of 24. Nine of them raced, and eight were winners. Crucially, two of them were graded stakes-winners – Rushing Wind and Nordic Breeze. She also produced the stakes-winning Ice Wine and the stakes-placed Nordic Wind.

Normandy currently have four of her daughters at stud, as well as a granddaughter. The only one with runners is Rio’s Mom, Arctic Breeze, a mare with a perfect score of winners from runners.

“All I can say is that Rio’s been a special horse his entire life. We entered him for the Ready To Run because he’s a November foal, and also to give his younger siblings time to shape. During his sales preparation he showed himself to have well above average potential,” added the enthusiastic breeder.

Oscar says that Rio Querari’s actual RTR gallop – view that here –  was sensational.

“His super elastic action delivered a rush of excitement around the track, which is what ultimately saw him sell for the price he did. He is not from a big family. In fact, his dam barely stands 15 hands, and he is probably no more than medium sized – although I am speaking under correction, because I’m not around him every day.”

Jill says that Rio Querari was prepped by the Snaiths and they fell in love with him all over again at the sale.

Dealmaker on Rio Querari – John Freeman

“John Freeman kindly put the partnership together. And, as things happen in racing, Richard Edmondson, in whose silks Rio runs, has become a firm friend. I will say again – that’s the great thing about racing here. We really have met such wonderful people!”

When quizzed on the origin of the name, Oscar says that Normandy don’t name their yearlings for sale.

“But we started naming the Ready To Run horses, so that they would have passports and therefore be ready to race pretty much immediately. In Rio’s case, we’d exhausted all wind references, so I hit Google. He’s named after a river in the Querari region in Colombia. With ‘Rio’ as the first part of his name it’s just lucky that he turned out to be deserving of a good name.”

A looker already before the RTR Sale ! Rio Querari captured by Troy Finch

Oscar points out that they still have two yearlings from the family that have not been sold.

“We have four for the sales next year, and three foals to be born. One will be a full-brother/sister in blood to Rio, and the other two are by Legislate. Obviously we can’t guarantee these things, but from what I’ve seen of the yearlings and foals, there should be worthy successors to Rio.”

Read this link for interest 

As for Rio’s Dad, Oscar tells that Normandy got heavily involved in Querari when he had his first few two-year-old winners.

“Rio Querari is the result of one of those. We sent him 10 mares in 2015. It’s great to have been able to provide Querari’s first non-2yo GrI winner.”

So will the Warners be blazing the trail on the East Coast as Rio Querari looks to stake a claim for the SA Champion Sprinter title?

“We have professional commitments in the UK soon, but are hoping, given the uncertainty of the Covid-19 restrictions in England, and the fact that South Africa is red-listed, to be back in time to enjoy some more racing here,” says Jill.

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