In a thrilling curtain-raiser to KwaZulu-Natal’s Champions Season, Undercover Agent won the Grade 2 Independent on Saturday Drill Hall Stakes at Greyville – just holding off fast-finishing Rainbow Bridge and determined Cirillo.
Trainer Brett Crawford’s colt started as the favourite, with Sun Met champion Rainbow Bridge, trained by Eric Sands, next on the boards.
Both classy four-year-olds from Cape Town were coming off rests and having prep races ahead of the winter exertions. While the 1400m trip of the famous old race looked suitable for Undercover Agent, it was short of optimal for Rainbow Bridge.
The first three past the post gave notice that they will be in the reckoning in big races to come.
Corne Orffer got Undercover Agent away smartly from the No 2 gate and set a brisk pace around the Greyville curve, with Cirillo tracking him ahead of Lady In Black and Rainbow Bridge – who Anton Marcus had managed to manoeuvre across from the wide No 9 gate.
As they straightened, three-year-old colt Cirillo, under champion jockey Lyle Hewitson, challenged and, for a brief moment, looked a likely winner. But Undercover Agent refused to yield.
The post came too soon for Rainbow Bridge, who forged ahead a stride past the post.
What might be the shortest race ever staged in South Africa saw a bunch of sprinters – gate-speed and early-toe merchants – flying down the Greyville straight. Watchers barely had time to identify their fancies before the 400m frenzy was over.
Race 10, The Independent on Saturday Sport and Racing Dash, was an interesting experiment and revealed Louis Goosen-trained Effortless Reward as the country’s champion “quarter horse”.
From the jump, it was Zarnitsa – always quick out of the blocks – who grabbed the lead and looked like she might have stolen the race, but Australian-bred Effortless Reward reeled her in and won going away by 1.25 lengths – with jockey Jason Gates waving in triumph from the irons.
Zarnitsa clung on for second place with Calvary a fast-finishing third. Kissable couldn’t match the early speed of the first three and ran on into fourth.
The barrier draw had a big say in the outcome of the Grade 2 KRA Guineas at Greyville, with Soqrat unable to overcome his downtown No 13 gate as pole-positioned Twist Of Fate took the honours.
Port Elizabeth hero National Park was a commendable second from gate No 9, while Varsfontein bred Bunker Hunt got third, ahead of the late-charging Soqrat (AUS).
Twist Of Fate, trained by Joey Ramsden, has been a model of consistency throughout his three-year-old season, finishing in the close company of some very good horses – including Soqrat in the Cape Guineas. He was coming off a 97-day rest but still attracted plenty of betting support.
Jockey Anton Marcus, second twice in the evening’s earlier features, hopped aboard Twist Of Fate determined to go one better. From the 1600m start, he settled the son of Master Of My Fate handily in fourth position before timing the finishing effort well – coming off the turn on a slingshot trajectory and passing a flying National Park in the final 100m.
Santa Clara, a half-sister to recently retired Horizon, hammered her rivals in the companion piece, the Grade 2 KRA Fillies Guineas.
Candice Bass-Robinson’s charge was drawn wide at 10 and was a punters’ wallflower at 11-1. But the daughter of Duke Of Marmalade came home in the style of a superior horse.
Running on well into second place, 2.75 lengths back, was Front And Centre, who had an even worse draw (13) to overcome. Temple Grafin, another by Duke Of Marmalade, showed fight in third, a further 1.25 lengths adrift.
Jockey Bernard Fayd’Herbe got busy on Santa Clara from the jump, getting her positioned in third place, just off pacemakers Running Brave and Silvano’s Pride.
In the final 400m, Fayd’Herbe gave Santa Clara the signal and she cruised away to win as she liked.
African Warrior scored a Gr3 victory in the Godolphin Barb for his young sire Vercingetorix in a phenomenal win for Dean Kannemeyer and owners DK Racing Syndicate – their first feature winner! African Warrior started a weak 3-1 favourite and was last of the field of seven as they spun for home. He ducked down the inside rail for his run and at the 200m nothing looked to be going better – until Master Of Illusion clicked what it was all about.
In a drive to the wire, the Kannemeyer galloper held on by a nose to beat Master Of Illusion in a time of 66,58 secs.
Jockey Keagan de Melo is riding with confidence, and admitted he may have had made his move a moment early.
African Warrior was bred by Boland Stud and was astutely picked up for R100 000 at the KZN Yearling Sale. He is out of the one-time winning Jet Master mare, Allez Afrique.
African Warrior has now won 2 of his 3 starts for 1 place and stakes of R201 125.
Dean Kannemeyer lauded the merits of Vercingetorix and would have been thrilled to have broken the SA Champions Season ice so early!
Trainer Tobie Spies celebrated a cracking start to his SA Champions Season campaign at Greyville on Friday evening when the lightning fast Potala Palace filly Singforafa went all the way to beat her stablemate Me Time in the R200 000 Gr3 Strelitzia Stakes.
The daughter of Ridgemont Highlands’ massive value Singspiel sire Potala Palace, who is set to stand this season again for a fee of R5000, made it two wins from four starts when she burst away from her field under Craig Zackey to score at 10-1 by 1,25 lengths in a time of 65,92 secs.
Her more experienced stablemate Me Time made good late headway to hold off the Cape raider and favourite Vandah’s Spirit, who had every chance.
The top two have underlined the form of True To Life who runs in the Gr2 SA Nursery at Turffontein on Saturday.
Bred by NJ Swart from the thrice winning Whistling Wood mare First Whistle, the winner races in the silks of the trainer’s Grandson Xander Spies, who has proven a lucky owner.
She took her stakes earnings to R199 500 and was described by jockey Craig Zackey as one of the quickest fillies he has ridden.
-extract tabnews.co.za / sportingpost.co.za and Images Candiese Marnewick