Ebony Flyer Horse
Ebony Flyer Horse

Ebony Flyer - South African Fillies Sprint (Grade 1)…

(Photo : Gold Circle)

Scottville’s Festival of Speed

26 May 2012

There were plenty of first-time racegoers at Scottville’s Festival of Speed, witnessing a feast of four Group One sprints. The sponsors, the Golden Horse Casino, which shares the racecourse complex, must’ve been delirious with the outcome, and there’ll be more than a few in the crowd who’ll be back for sure. Racing is meant to be fun, and it was.

But for the connoisseur, this isn’t how it’s meant to be. Track biases are sometimes figments of the mind, yet on an occasion which celebrates more Group One sprints down a straight 1200 metres on one day than any other in the world, it’s a pity one side of the course can sometimes be so much quicker than the other. Not a single outside (standside) drawn horse came home (in five 1200 events all told), despite the fact that in three of the five events all carried level (sex and age-adjusted) weights, and several of the best-credentialed runners occupied outside post positions. Nothing beyond the 11 slot even made the frame on the day, and as a result, we saw a hotch-potch of outcomes.

The two Juvenile divisions have been in disarray all season, and after the weekend, we’re no less confused. The “big one” of the day, the Golden Horse Sprint, is a handicap which by its nature, is designed to upset from time to time. While the victor, Delago Deluxe, is an obvious talent and already a Group One winner in the Juvenile colt’s race at the same meeting last year, he was nonetheless lightly treated at the weights with a modest 54 kgs on his back. What he certainly is though, is thoroughly happy back in the yard of former Champion trainer, Charles Laird. His form prior to his departure for the Cape last summer as well as this season, was in marked contrast to his sojourn in the Winelands. You can chalk this one down as a definite “Shark”, as opposed to the Western Cape’s local rugby franchise, the Stormers, who bit the dust against the Sharks in Durban the same evening.

One event on the card though, which lived up to every inch of its billing, was the South African Fillies Sprint, featuring two distaff superstars and one, Welwitchia, who had hinted at stardom when her trainer, Mike de Kock, suddenly relented to her being the sprinter her pedigree suggested she had to be. One of de Kock’s most disarming attributes is his candour when he gets things wrong, (yes, he does very occasionally) and he volunteered in the lead-up that he’d tried to make Welwitchia “stay” for too long. Those who saw her destruction of a quality field of colts on Champions Day a month back, were not only quickly converted to de Kock’s new-found faith, but most of us were fully expecting her to settle the superstars here as well.

For the record, the “glamour girls” in the line-up were the much-exalted Ebony Flyer (who counts a smashing victory over Horse of The Year, Igugu, among many highlights in a remarkable career thus far,) and the sensational Princess Victoria, queen of the Three-Year-Old division, whose only defeat in her past 8 visits to the races, came at the hands of Joey Ramsden’s Variety Club, one of the brightest milers we’ve seen in decades.

Both these deities enjoy cult status among the sports’ fans, and this was a day to savour. Princess Victoria’s well-being was advertised only a week ago, when Beach Beauty, among her vanquished last outing, produced the season’s most stirring “July” trial in the Astrapak 1900 (Gr.2). But “the Princess” was drawn 10 this time,  and that sadly tells the tale of a race in which she never threatened, even for a stride. So it was down to Mary Slack’s Welwitchia, whose sustained run from the rear looked to have it stitched up entering the final furlong, and Ebony Flyer, starting at (for her) the generous odds of 6/1. Yet, as good as Welwitchia absolutely is, she was mown down in a matter of strides by this Amazon of racing, flashing up this time in the emerald and red of Team Valor and Anant Singh, and adding another string to the bow of the already formidable band of females under the command of Gaynor Rupert’sDrakenstein Stud.

But hey, listen, this was no ordinary training feat. Justin Snaith has always said this filly was not just extraordinary, he claims she’s a freak, a statement Glen Kotzen has always reserved for Princess Victoria, too. She’d been off since winning the Gr.1 Majorca Stakes in January, she’d been under the knife, and this was supposed to be a “prep” for things to come. It wasn’t the script we’d have penned beforehand, but it went something like this:

Her jockey, Bernard Fayd’Herbe, isn’t exactly a born-again Christian, but his Mauritian ancestory guarantees he’s a good Catholic boy, with a sound reverence for his creator. As he entered that hallowed piece of turf they call the Winner’s Circle (on big days, on the track in front of the grandstand at Scottsville,) Fayd’Herbe cast his head heavenwards as most god-fearing sports people do these days, and as he’d been taught at his Catechism classes, he looked to “cross” himself in acknowledgment. Good natured cat-calls echoed from the boisterous throng pressing on the running rail. No one was doubting the power of the Lord, but it seemed that just about everyone in the crowd knew of another eternal truth. When it comes to racehorses, and especially Ebony Flyer, the initials to look for are J.S, not “J.C.”.

Best back that up in case we’re accused of a new form of blasphemy, such was Justin Snaith’s faith in this filly, whose “roaring” wind affliction is as well known at the Phillipi work track as stopwatches are, that he’d ordered a second wind “op” just a few months back. This performance must’ve been the “second coming”. But just to prove the Snaiths are as human as any of us, as the filly returned to scale, Justin and his brother Jonathan quickly flipped the switches to vaudeville. The winter sun played on their faces, and there were some who thought they’d seen a bit of moisture in their youthful eyes.

Editor:Ebony Flyer’s sire, Jet Master is arguably the best South African stallion of all time. Certainly, he has been the dominant stallion among what has undoubtedly been the most formidable assembly of stallions in living memory. Yet he was afflicted by “wind” issues so severely that his racing career (encompassing 8 Group One victories) was limited to races of 1600m or less. That he is known to share this problem with a good proportion of his progeny, tells us that with modern technology, when they’re good enough, “wind” is no longer a reason to decry an otherwise outstanding sire prospect.