Princess Calla finally captured her first Grade 1 victory with a gutsy win in the R1.25-million HSH Princess Charlene Empress Club Stakes over 1600m at Turffontein on Saturday. Ridden by Aldo Domeyer and trained by Ashley Fortune, the four-year old daughter of Flower Alley gallantly fought off the efforts of three-year-old Under Your Spell to win by 0.75 lengths.
Sparkling Water ran on well for third, beaten a further two lengths, with Zarina the same distance back in fourth.
Princess Calla went off favourite at 15-10.
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The filly had placed in seven Grade 1 races but until Saturday was unable to get her head down at the right moment.
The victory proved to be a double triumph because this was also the first Grade 1 winner Fortune has trained. As a result, emotions ran high as Princess Calla returned to the winner’s enclosure. It proved a real family affair as Andrew Fortune, Ashley’s husband, is Domeyer’s father.
“I don’t know how to explain it. There’s so much emotion involved with this one,” said Domeyer.
“This meant such a lot to my family,” he added, choking up as he spoke and wiping away a tear.
He is the first jockey for trainer Candice Bass-Robinson stable and should have been on Zarina, so Domeyer thanked her for allowing him to ride the filly and also paid tribute to Princess Calla’s former trainer, Adam Marcus, acknowledging “all the fine work he has done with this horse”.
“It was phenomenal. There was such a lot for us to work with when she got here. He sent her up in impeccable condition and he prepped her quite nicely from a young age.
“I spent a couple of weeks away from home (to work her) sacrificing for this filly and last time I sat on her she just kept on improving and improving. The rain interruptions gave us reason to have a bit of doubt but every time I jumped on her a little bit more class came through, so well done to Ashley and my dad.
“I can’t imagine the amount of pressure they must have taken with this, but my dad always said that one thing he wanted to do before he goes is to train a Grade 1 winner and here I’m bringing it home for them!”
Princess Calla got out smartly and was settled in third place by Domeyer while Princess Betty set a somewhat sedate pace. Sprinkles sat second with Sentbydestiny and Zarina placed fourth and fifth respectively, Under Your Spell some five lengths off the leader and Sparkling Water close to the rear.
With 500m to run Domeyer made his move and came up on the inside of the leader with Warren Kennedy on Sprinkles opting to go up the centre. Princess Calla got to the front at the 400m mark and then the challengers came. Under Your Spell made up ground on the inside with Zarina and Sparkling Water also trying to close in.
However, it was left to Princess Calla and Under Your Spell to fight it out with the former sticking to her guns and getting the upper hand close home.
“What a filly, what an absolute pleasure she has been since the moment she set foot in our yard,” said Fortune. “(Owner) Mario (Ferreira) and Des (Gonsalves – racing manager) they deserve this more than anybody. They are passionate, they put a lot of money into the game and I couldn’t be more happy for an owner and a manager than these two.”