Winter Wonderland

What A Winter, a colt of very rare ability

R1 million Gr1 Computaform Sprint, Turffontein 1000m, on Saturday

What A Winter takes a step into the unknown when he pays a flying visit to Gauteng for Saturday’s Computaform Sprint over 1000m at the Turffontein, and his connections’ bold initiative will have an excellent chance of reaping a handsome return if the hugely talented three-year-old can bring his best sea-level form to the Highveld, wites MATTHEW LIPS.

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What A Winter

This does look to be a very competitive renewal of South Africa’s most valuable 1000m contest, but What A Winter is a colt of very rare ability and confirmed his well-being with an impressive demolition of some decent rivals in a set weights event over 1200m at Kenilworth a fortnight ago.  Mike Bass’ colt quickened in effortless style to win by 4.5 lengths and confirmed that he is fit and ready for Saturday’s much more testing assignment.  The son of Western Winter unleashed his usual turn of acceleration when he comfortably won the Gr 1 Cape Flying Championship over the Kenilworth 1000m in January, and (for now, at least) is clearly best suited to sprint distances.  He was the facile winner of a 1200m Listed event the only time he raced on going officially labelled “soft”, which is just as well given Gauteng’s seemingly never-ending rainy season, and he shapes up as the horse they will all have to beat even though we have no way of knowing how he will cope with the long journey up from Cape Town.

Magico home-town advantage

Fellow three-year-old Magico now has home-town advantage and can step up on what he showed when beaten 2.65 lengths behind What A Winter in the Cape Flying Championship.  Negotiations to sell Magico fell through shortly before that race and he probably didn’t have the most ideal of preparations, but everything is likely to have run more smoothly this time.  Paul Peter’s colt quickened well from off the pace when he comfortably won a Gr 3 handicap over this course-and-distance in February, and he faces Exclaim’n’Exclude  on fully 6 kgs better terms for a one length beating over the Vaal 1000m the following month.  Magico should not have too much trouble reversing that form and a decent effort is likely, but taking Flying Championship form at absolute face value would suggest the handicapper has flattered him with a rating only one pound inferior to What A Winter’s.

Val De Ra may lead them a merry dance

Val De Ra

Val De Ra, lightning quick daughter of Var

KZN-trained filly Noble Heir won this race last year and Val De Ra will be hoping to emulate that feat.  A lightning quick daughter of Var who has never been defeated from five starts over 1000m, Val De Ra was returning from a 41 week lay-off when she gave Wishful Eye 8 kgs and a very comfortable three-quarter length beating in a Listed race for females at Clairwood earlier this month.  Wishful Eye holds the Clairwood 1000m course record, so there was plenty of merit in that performance and Val De Ra may even have come on from the run.  This does represent a considerable rise in class for Dennis Drier’s four-year-old and the fact remains that Val De Ra suffered her only career defeat on the sole occasion that she raced at Gr 1 (or Gr anything, for that matter) level.  Nor has she ever raced on soft ground, which with her action would be a possible concern if there is any significant cut in the ground, but she has done very little wrong.  She may just lead them all a merry dance from start to finish, at least if the track is running fast.

Shea Shea better if goimg is soft

Completing the trio of three-year-olds in the line-up for this WFA affair is Shea Shea, who coasted to a facile success against his own age group in a Gr 3 event over 1100m in very soft going last month.  He could very well be another who is best suited to sprinting despite having been tried up to 1600m, and while he was beaten in his only attempt over 1000m he looks to be an improving sort.  He can quicken well from just off the pace and is now officially rated the equal of Magico after that most recent success, which can fairly be considered to have been a career-best effort from Geoff Woodruff’s colt.  There has to be some doubt as to whether Shea Shea is speedy enough to actually win a race like this, but his chances of at least reaching the frame would be enhanced if the going comes up genuinely soft.

Blue Tiger

Blue Tiger was below best when beaten 7.5 lengths behind What A Winter a fortnight ago and appears to have his moods at the age of six, but he ran on stoutly when 1.5 lengths third behind his stable companion in the Cape Flying Championship and would have a solid place chance if he were to find that sort of form here.  He has looked an unlucky loser of the Cape Flying Championship on at least one if not two earlier occasions and is a very good 1000m horse indeed, but he will also need to shrug off the effects of the lengthy trip up from Cape Town.  Gaultier is another representative of the Mike Bass yard.  Unlike What A Winter and Blue Tiger he has been in Gauteng for some time, but he made little impact in one local appearance in the Gr 2 Senor Santa Handicap earlier in April.  On his day he is virtually the equal of Blue Tiger and the two have beaten each other in races on countless occasions, but Gaultier seems to bring his A Game to the races less and less frequently these days and could only finish 4.40 lengths back ninth in the Cape Flying Championship.

Winking Jack, huge step up in class

Winking Jack has been one of the most improved horses around in recent months, with three wins and a short head second from his last four starts, and has taken on a new lease of life since being dropped to sprint distances.  He was the comfortable winner of a set weights event over this course-and-distance earlier in April, and such is the progress he has made that he races here off a merit rating which is 13 pounds higher than it was less than a month ago.  That is no mean feat for a six-year-old, but Winking Jack is nevertheless taking a huge step up in class now and this really does appear to be at least one bridge too far even if he has no doubt earned the right to try his hand in a race of this calibre.

Moroccan hoping for soft going

Moroccan has been rested 11 weeks since he was outpaced throughout and finished six lengths fifth behind Magico over the Turffontein 1000m.  He is a much more effective performer on soft ground and can boast four wins from five attempts in such conditions.  He hadn’t raced for seven months when he impressively won a pinnacle plate in wet going in January and could run on into a place if he gets similar going here.

Others make greater appeal

Exclaim’n’Exclude as already noted appears held by Magico on these weight terms and was subsequently a bit disappointing when beaten 2.5 lengths into third behind Winking Jack.  He now meets the latter on 1.5 kgs better terms, but doesn’t look to have done enough to stack up as a probable winner on WFA terms.  Cruso is speedy and ran well when beaten 1.5 lengths by Winking Jack last time, but there is nothing in his record to suggest he is a Gr 1 horse and he should be held safe.  August Rush has not been out since he was allowed to dictate his own rather unhurried pace and won what appeared to be a somewhat false-run 1200m handicap at Kenilworth.  That said, runner-up Splash Gold has at least won since to boost the form and August Rush was hampered before finishing 3.90 lengths behind What A Winter in the Cape Flying Championship, but he already looked beaten at the time.  He is not entirely without a place chance perhaps, but others do make greater appeal.

The stable companions Jinzo and Intellectual regularly cross swords and there is not much between them.  The latter finished second in this race last year, but has not managed a win since and in any case the 2010 edition of the Computaform Sprint was almost certainly a somewhat weaker one than this.  Fellow KZN visitor Mr Mickey Mouse is very game and has won a Listed handicap over the course-and-distance this season, but he had every chance before finishing 2.5 lengths third behind Magico at Gr 3 level last time and now has to meet the latter on 4.5 kgs worse terms.  He is also 5.5 kgs worse off with Jinzo compared to when he was beaten a neck by the latter at Clairwood in January and should be in over his head here.

This distance is likely to prove too swift for the stable companions Arabian Mist (a dual winner of the Gr 2 Merchants over 1160m on this course) and Rebel Knight, who finished third at Gr 1 level over 1600m last time out.  Soft going would suit Rebel Knight in particular, but it’s hard to see either of them getting into the hunt.  That leaves the reserve runners.  Mr Black Tom is very consistent, but should be well held at the weights and was beaten two lengths by Magico on 6.5 kgs better terms than these in February.  Tribal has yet to find his best form since relocating from Cape Topwn and has been unplaced twice behind Winking Jack from as many Gauteng appearances.  Even on his best form he would face an impossible task off a mark of 89 in a race where fourteen of the eighteen carded horses can boast a three-figure rating.

About the pace

There’s sure to be no shortage of early pace, especially with Val De Ra in the line-up.  The likes of Cruso, Winking Jack and Mr Mickey Mouse can also get a move on, and a true-run race looks certain.  What A Winter has done absolutely nothing wrong over sprint distances from day one, and looks every inch like a potential champion.  He is selected to win the Computaform Sprint ahead of Magico, Val De Ra, Shea Shea, and Blue Tiger.  Factor Moroccan into calculations for minor money if the ground comes up properly soft or heavy.

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