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Top fillies do battle in the ‘Garden’

War Of Athena in action. Photo: Supplied

War Of Athena in action. Photo: Supplied

Published Jun 28, 2021


War Of Athena and Captain's Ransom will be involved in the clash of the season on Vodacom Durban July day in the Grade 1 Jonsson Workwear Garden Province Stakes and their respective connections spoke about the fillies in this Equus Three-Year-Old Champion Filly tiebreaker.

War Of Athena has a big draw advantage, jumping from pole position compared to Captain's Ransom 13.

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War Of Athena's trainer Paul Matchett said, "She is spot on and will travel down from Randjesfontein on Friday morning. She is a tough filly. The more you give her the more she seems to thrive, she likes to be kept busy and if I rested her, she would probably become bored. She is fit and well. I have a lot of respect for Captain's Ransom, who is probably going over her best distance, she is a very good miler, but we have a draw advantage."

Captain's Ransom's trainer Justin Snaith said, "She is going well at home but the draw is a big concern. She is going to be flying home but is going to have to make up a lot of ground from that draw so we are going to need luck and we hope the race is not over by the time we come. We are just hoping for a positive run."

War Of Athena's jockey Muzi Yeni said, "War Of Athena is coming down in trip but she is versatile and beat Anything Goes over a mile. She is in a great space and from draw one she has a massive chance; I think she is going to be hard to beat."

Captain's Ransom's jockey Richard Fourie said, "She is doing well but from a wide draw we have to try and beat War Of Athena who is very well prepped and fit and is drawn in pole. A lot will depend on the pace too. If it is slow it will be even more suited to War Of Athena. We have our work cut out and it might be a false result. If they had been drawn next to each other it would give a better indication of who the better filly is. War Of Athena might beat us this time but we will meet again."

War Of Athena is owned by Roy Wentzel and Rose Waterman Wentzel and the latter said, "Paul and Muzi are very pleased with her, she seems to get stronger and faster all the time and the more she does the more she seems to want to do. She is an absolute machine. But we have a lot of respect for Captain's Ransom, she is a lovely gal, and for all of the opposition, there are some great equine athletes in the field. It is going to be an interesting race. It is attracting a lot of hype and I hope everybody enjoys it. We are looking forward to it, it is just a pity we will not be able to be there."

Captain's Ransom's owner Suzette Viljoen said, "The draw is a worry but Captain's Ransom is very good and I think she will overcome it. However, War Of Athena is an absolutely brilliant horse so I will say I am nervous but optimistic!"

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John Freeman chose Captain's Ransom at the Sales and Suzette was sitting opposite him when the hammer fell.

She recalled, "She was not a big horse who you would say 'wow' for, she was quite an ordinary horse but was bulky and actually looked more like she would be speedy. But she had a gutsy look and had a presence for me so the moment the hammer fell I said to John "I want her.'"

The Moutonshoek-bred daughter of Captain Al cost a bargain R225,000.

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That is a lot compared to War Of Athena, a Summerhill Stud-bred daughter of Act Of war went for just R30,000. She was chosen by Rose Waterman-Wentzel, who says about buying horses, "It is all in their eyes and then they must 'talk' to me too."

The Viljoen’s entered horseracing three years ago and have become prolific buyers. Bertie Myburgh bought them their first horse What A Poet who was trained by Corrie Lensley, whose stables were conveniently on route to one of Suzette and Basie's diamond mines near Kimberley. Their next horse, Marco Polo, was bought by John Freeman and trained by Justin Snaith.

They then began attending sales themselves and Suzette said, "Unfortunately, Basie could not sit on my hands!"

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Suzette added, "I love racehorses, there is something brilliant about watching them, and I love the punters, they are really good people, and I love the industry, it is like a big family."

Her passion for the sport stems from her childhood equine hero Big Charles, who won the July in 1981 shortly before Prince Charles and Lady Di were married. She was the only one in her family interested in racing, although her Irish great-grandfather, surnamed McCarthy, whom she never met was in fact a racehorse trainer. She and Basie made an annual pilgrimage to watch the July and as they live in Northwest Province even coming by aeroplane meant a 400km journey to the airport.

Roy Wentzel was a prominent owner in Zimbabwe for many years and re-entered the game a few years ago by which stage he was married to Rose, who grew up around horses and took part in eventing and dressage competitions for most of her life.

The two couples will unfortunately not be able to meet on the big day due to the level four lockdown.

The Viljoen’s in fact arrived in Durban a couple of days ago in preparation and adding to the disappointment of not being able to be on course their hotel does not have the racing channel so they will have to watch on their cell phones.

The Wentzel’s will be watching from their home in Port Alfred. Rose said they might take a walk on the beach beforehand to calm their nerves!

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