Mike Moon
Horse racing correspondent
4 minute read
27 Nov 2021
7:00 am

War Of Athena is ready for a battle royal

Mike Moon

It won’t be easy for the four-year-old Triple Tiara champ against some good horses, but veteran trainer Paul Matchett seems to have his charge in peak nick for Joburg’s premier race.

War Of Athena will be amongst the fan favourites at the Gauteng Summer Cup at Turffontein on Saturday. Picture: JC Photographics

War Of Athena is one of the finest fillies to have graced the South African turf in recent years and can claim her place among the greats of the local game with victory in the Gauteng Summer Cup at Turffontein on Saturday.

It won’t be an easy task for the four-year-old Triple Tiara champ, with a couple of seriously good horses ranging up alongside her, but wily veteran trainer Paul Matchett seems to have timed his charge’s preparations with precision and has her in peak nick for Joburg’s premier race.

Two weeks ago, War Of Athena was third on the bookmakers’ boards – with male rivals Malmoos and Got The Greenlight contesting the top slot. Now she is a firm favourite at 5-2 and the others are on the drift.

Reasons for this turnaround in punter sentiment include a closer analysis of the three horses’ prep runs. The two colts put in curiously plodding efforts in the Charity Mile at the end of October, whereas War Of Athena sparkled as she trounced a Pinnacle Stakes field over 1400m a week later.

The 2000m of the Summer Cup is a different kettle of fish, of course, and the runners were not fully tuned back then, but the evidence of relative wellbeing was compelling.

Also, the gallops War Of Athena has been putting in at Randjesfontein Training Centre in recent days has not escaped the notice of hundreds of well-trained eyes squinting through the early-morning gloom. Particularly impressive her whipping of speedy male relative Battle Force, who is among the fancies to win the Merchants, a supporting feature race on Summer Cup day.

The word is out, and the dogs are barking – to coin a well-worn and colourful racing phrase.

Doubters will point to the fact that War Of Athena has not raced against males in her 17 outings to date. The comeback is that most of her impressive 10 wins and six places have been against the best of her gender, she has never flinched from a challenge, and collateral form suggests she has the beating of most of the 18 other Cup hopefuls.

Malmoos has a stellar record of seven wins in 10 races and took out the 2020 Triple Crown for three-year-old males – in tandem with War Of Athena’s Tiara. He has master trainer Mike de Kock in his corner and can therefore never be discounted.

Similarly, five-year-old Joey Soma-trained Got The Greenlight has placed himself at the top of the local racing pile with some superb Grade 1 victories and two close-up placings in the Durban July in the past couple of years.

Is it a three-horse race?

Almost. Racing predictions are never absolute, but it would be a surprise if one of these three wasn’t in the winner’s circle at Turffontein come 3.40pm Saturday. Thirteen of the 19 runners are weighted under sufferance – carrying more weight than their merit ratings indicate they should – so the quality of the field is not particularly high overall.

Second Base is a very good racehorse who could seize his chance if the mighty trio all go walkabout. De Kock’s second string Al Muthana is a rapidly improving youngster who might be better than he has shown. In-form outsiders who might run the race of their lives and deliver a seismic shock to Joburg’s southern environs include Bingwa, Golden Pheasant and Majestic Mozart.

The Grade 1 Gauteng Summer Cup lost its rich purse to the depredations of Covid and Phumelela’s bankruptcy, but the prize money has happily been restored to R2 million through sponsorship by bookmaking firm World Sports Betting.

The 10-race card at Turffontein includes five supporting feature races, including the venerable Dingaans and the Ipi Tombe Challenge – which commemorates possibly the greatest filly to have raced in this country (a portent and an inspiration, perhaps).

The Summer Cup day Pick 6 pool is estimated to reach R12 million, while the Quartet pool on the big race could build to R4 million.

SELECTIONS

Turffontein Saturday

1: 3 Angelsea, 6 Bellevarde, 2 Oceans Pride, 4 Run For Isla

2: 1 Magnum P I, 4 Secret Link, 5 Master Of Coin, 2 Wave Warrior

3: 6 Sound Of Summer, 3 Forever Mine, 7 Saragon, 8 Donald McDonald

4: 9 Sheela, 7 Big Burn, 13 Full Velocity, 10 Sound Of Warning

5: 14 Bartholdi, 4 MK’s Pride, 2 Battle Force, 5 Ultra Magnus

6: 3 Super Excited, 2 Safe Passage,5 Aragosta, 1 Pyromaniac

7: 8 Rain In Holland, 10 Clafoutis, 9 Perfect Witness, 3 Bold Fortune

8: 3 War Of Athena, 1 Got The Greenlight, 2 Malmoos, 10 Golden Pheasant

9: 10 Barak, 9 Super Handsome, 6 Smoking Hot, 3 Marchingontogether

10: 7 Apache Gold, 2 Knightflight, 12 Maria’s World, 6 Flashy Apache

Pick 6: 7,9,10,11,13 x 2,4,5,10,13,14 x 1,2,3,5 x 8 x 1,2,3 x 3,4,5,6,9,10 (R2160)

PA: 6 x 7,9 x 4,14 x 2,3,5 x 8 x 1,3 x 9,10 (R48)

Kenilworth Saturday

Best bet: Race 7 No 4 Silver Sabre

Value bet: Race 4 No 8 Klaserie

Greyville Sunday

Best bet: Race 7 No 1 Qualiforsure

Value bet: Race 9 No 4 Mbejeje