The 2017 Breeders’ Cup Challenge begins this Saturday at Kenilworth Racecourse in South Africa with two outstanding Group 1 turf events in the one mile R1.5 million L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate, for an automatic berth into the $ 2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) and the 1 1/8 mile R1 million Maine Chance Farms Paddock Stakes for a free starting position into the $ 2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1).
Now in its 11th season, the Breeders’ Cup Challenge is an international series of stakes races whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which will be held this year for the first time at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, November 3-4, near San Diego, Calif.
As a part of the benefits of the Challenge series, the Breeders’ Cup will pay the pre-entry and entry fees for the winners of Saturday’s races, and will also provide a US$ 40,000 travel allowance for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships. The Challenge winner must be nominated to the Breeders’ Cup program by the Championships’ pre-entry deadline of Oct. 23 to receive the rewards.
Ingrid and Marcus Jooste’s 5-year-old gelding Legal Eagle (SAF), the defending champion and South Africa’s Horse of the Year, headlines the 11 horse field in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate for 3-year-olds and up. Legal Eagle will start from the third post position. Trained by Sean Tarry and ridden by Anton Marcus, Legal Eagle has won eight of 14 career starts, including a recent win over the course and distance against top rival Marinaresco (SAF) in the about seven-furlong Green Point Stakes (G2) on December 3. The bay son of Greys Inn won three Group 1s in five starts in 2016, including the HF Oppenheimer Horse Chestnut Stakes and the Premier’s Champions Challenge in April. His two defeats came against the champion mare Smart Call (SAF).
The 4-year-old Marinaresco finished a half-length behind Legal Eagle in the Green Point Stakes. Last year, the bay gelded son of Silvano (GER) won the 1 1/8-mile Mike and Carol Bass Champions Cup (G1 at Greyville, one of his four wins in 13 career starts. Trained Candice Bass-Robinson, Marinaresco will be ridden by Grant van Niekerk, breaking from post 10.
In addition to Legal Eagle, trainer Sean Tarry will also be starting the 6-year-old French Navy (SAF), staring from post seven under Weichong Marwing. French Navy finished two lengths behind Legal Eagle in last year’s Champions Challenge. Returning for a five-month layoff, the son of Count Dubois (GB) finish sixth in the about six-furlong Pinnacle Stakes on December 13 at Turffontein Race Course.
Mayfair Speculators’ 6-year-old gelding The Conglomerate (AUS) defeated Marinaresco the 1 3/8 miles Vodacom Durban July Stakes (G1) to close out last season. Trained by Joey Ramsden, The Conglomerate, a son of Lohnro (AUS,) returned to the races November 29 with a second-place finish in the about 1 3/16 miles Gauteng Sansui Summer Cup (G1) at Turffontein. He will be ridden by Piere Strydom from post 11.
The 12 fillies and mares entered for the Maine Chance Farm Paddock Stakes are led by the Justin Snaith-trained Bela-Bela (SAF) for Varsfontein Stud. Bela-Bela won the Table Plate Hotel Conditions Stakes at 6 furlongs on turf on December 17 at Kenilworth over stablemate Star Express (SAF). It was the first start for this gray 5-year-old daughter of Dynasty (SAF) since finishing sixth in the Vodacom Durban July, run on July 7, against male rivals. Prior to that, she won the Woolavington 2000 (G1) on May 28 at about one mile, and the about seven-furlong Daisy Fillies Guineas (G2), both at Greyville. She breaks from post six on Saturday with Anton Marcus in the saddle. Star Express will be ridden by Piere Strydom, starting from post one.
Candice Bass-Robinson has three of the 12 starters in the field – Silver Mountain (SAF), Nightingale (SAF) and Whose That Girl (SAF), all sired by Silvano. Silver Mountain, owned by race sponsor Maine Chance Farms, had a tough 2016 after winning four races in 2015, including the World Sports Betting Cape Fillies Guineas (G1). The bay 5-year-old finished fourth in the recent Table Plate Hotel Conditions Stakes. Nightingale (Aldo Domeyer, Post 9) was prepped for the Paddock Stakes in the about one mile CTS Victress Stakes (G3) at Kenilworth on December 17, where she finished second to Goodtime Gal (SAF) (Gavn Lerena, Post 11). Whose That Girl (MJ Bleyveld, Post 4) won the about seven furlongs Summit Bookings Graduation Plate on December 24 at Kenilworth by one length.
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