Skip to main content

Written by Mark van Deventer

Even though the Champagne Stakes is no longer just for fillies and instead open to all horses 3-years and older, the 1200m Gr3 sprint at Hollywoodbets Kenilworth could be fought out by two Candice Bass-Robinson trained sprinting fillies: WINTER CLOUD and OCTOBER MORN.

They’ve both started ten times, and between them they’ve already won 12 races. OCTOBER MORN’s career highlight includes a Cartier Sceptre Stakes success in January, while WINTER CLOUD’s resume is supported by fine juvenile accomplishments. And the signs are that the latter has trained on beautifully; she gave DANCE VARIETY windchill when sweeping past that rival a month ago down this straight course.

Both are consistent, have an excellent turn of foot and have the necessary class to shape at this level. They face tough male rivals including the aforementioned, DANCE VARIETY, as well as COUNTDOWN, RIO QUERARI and CAFÉ CULTURE, so it won’t be a walk in the park. Yet they are preferred on their peak performances, with still more progression likely given their age (3) and relatively light campaigns to date.

Bass also sends out RED PALACE who nearly won the Hollywoodbets Cape Guineas in a bold stalk and pounce effort. Riding engagements suggest she might just need it after 84 days on the sidelines. The stable is also represented by JERUSALEMA RAIN who has an equivalent chance to DANCE VARIETY but was firmly put in his place by WINTER CLOUD’s dramatic last to first rush in mid-March. Bass, also sends out GOLD POKER GAME, who is adept from a mile upwards and is probably prepping for more suitable distance races in the near future.

COUNTDOWN is a live danger. The Glen Kotzen trained sprinter with the cheetah- like walk can turn it on when in the right frame of mind, and he comes off a game East Cape Sprint score a month ago. The booking of Richard Fourie is a plus factor.

RIO QUERARI won this race in 2023, and has run admirably since then to show that he still has some spring in his legs despite rising eight. Realistically, he is more of a place chance and may again find younger, more sprightly opposition too hot to stave off.

Now with Vaughan Marshall, ex-KZN performer CAPTAIN FONTANE has won a third of his 21 starts in the distance range between sprints and a mile. However, he will need to improve on recent runs to threaten. Marshall also sends out QUESTIONING, one of the better three-year-olds at the Cape with a defeat of Snow Pilot in October 2023’s Cape Classic his career highlight. He disappointed in his last couple of starts and is now fitted with blinkers after a two-month freshening to try catch a wake up.

CAFÉ CULTURE has really found form through spring and summer, winning four of seven starts, and only getting run out of it late by Wecangoallnight in his most recent race on 16 March. He will be a pace factor (others that might lead are COUNTDOWN and RED PALACE) and is a hard horse to get past when in full stride.

Slight knocks against WINTER CLOUD are that she did have some physical niggles and may appear held on the Cartier Sceptre Stakes clash with stable companion OCTOBER MORN, who is an extremely gifted filly in her own right.

Yet the manner of this daughter of What A Winter’s recent fluent score over DANCE VARIETY suggests she is ready to make another big leap forward from her already high-class juvenile form. That qualifies her as the narrow top pick in the Champagne Stakes over OCTOBER MORN, with old-stager RIO QUERARI, COUNTDOWN, DANCE VARIETY and the feisty CAFÉ CULTURE next in line.

– Images by Chase Liebenberg