Keagan de Melo will have to be nicknamed the “knockout kid” after scoring the third Grade 1 of his career on the Candice Bass-Robinson-trained 75/1 shot Zarina in the Grade 1 Jonsson Workwear Garden Province Stakes on Saturday, the same race in which he scored his first Grade 1 win last year on the 40/1 shot Temple Grafin.
Respective meeting bankers War Of Athena and Captain’s Ransom were among the vanquished in those two races and both results caused massive Pick 6 knockouts.
However, the new darling of the South African turf War Of Athena (Act Of War) was gallant in defeat and her close third would have clinched her the Equus Champion Three-year-old filly award as she had fellow twice Grade 1 winner, Captain’s Ransom (Captain Al), beaten by three lengths.
Furthermore, she was just a short-head behind the perennial brides-maid Princess Calla, whom she had beaten by 2,10 lengths over her probable best trip of 2000m in the Grade 1 Woolavington 2000.
War Of Athena showed in defeat just how huge her heart is and has to be considered unlucky as she was blocked off from her trusty pacemaker Only The Brave by Captain’s Ransom in front of her and Princess Calla outside of her.
Captain’s Ransom did the opposite of what the connections’ pre-race comments had suggested by rushing forward from the off.
Perhaps they had predicted a slow pace but as it happened War Of Athena from pole position did not hang around and, furthermore, Caya Coco made a bee-line for the front from draw eight with Princess Calla from draw nine on her quarters.
Captain’s Ransom thus had to do a lot of work to get around the field.
Meanwhile, Only The Brave’s intentions were clear from the off and from her wide draw of 14 she galloped to the front and set fast fractions.
Caya Coco was behind her and Captain’s Ransom then managed to slot in behind Caya Coco and in front of War Of Athena.
Richard Fourie then gave Captain’s Ransom a breather and a gap of about three to four lengths opened between Caya Coco in second and Captain’s Ransom in third.
Muzi Yeni on War Of Athena could not shift outward as Princess Calla was sitting alongside his mount.
Princess Calla was thus able to enter the straight with plenty of momentum while War Of Athena continued to be blocked by Captain’s Ransom.
By the time War Of Athena got going down the inside she had a couple of lengths to make up on Princess Calla who was galloping strongly down the centre.
Captain’s Ransom was a spent force by the 200m mark.
Meanwhile, Keagan de Melo had settled Zarina perfectly from the off, finding a one wide position with cover in the back half of the field from draw five.
One race earlier in the Vodacom Durban July on the Bass-Robinson-trained Supreme Sovereign De Melo lost his position rounding the Drill Hall when appearing to be forced outward by an incident and he was trapped wide thereafter.
It was a different story in the Garden Province and De Melo entered the straight with plenty of horse beneath him.
Zarina crept forward and, after ducking outward to avoid a shifting Zimbaba, she began to make telling inroads.
The final 100 metres was thrilling.
Princess Calla was out in front and looked the winner. War Of Athena was closing but not quickly enough.
Zarina then joined her and the courageous little filly responded by finding hidden reserves.
Meanwhile, a desperate Lyle Hewitson was attempting to throw Princess Calla across the line.
They went across the line as one and the photo finish showed Zarina to have got there by a hair’s breadth.
Zarina’s groom Zanekhaya Mahesi received a R5,000 reward from Jonsson Workwear and Bass-Robinson and De Melo both received the same reward.
The famous Bass yard had once again left a big racemeeting with a Grade 1 trophy.
Zarina, a three-year-old filly by Master Of My Fate, was bred by Oldlands Stud and is owned by Marsh Shirtliff, Ian Longmore and Bryn Ressell.
She has won five of her ten starts and was generous odds considering the Bass yard’s reputation for bringing young horses on slowly but surely.
Candice said one could hardly have expected Zarina to beat the two chief protagonists War Of Athena and Captain’s Ransom, considering their form, but her becoming a Grade 1 winner had not surprised her.
Picture: Keagan de Melo’s mount Zarina sticks her nose down between Princess Calla on the far side and War Of Athena in Saturday’s thrilling Grade 1 Jonsson Workwear Garden Province Stakes over 1600m. (Candiese Lenferna Photography).