Mike Moon
Horse racing correspondent
4 minute read
6 Apr 2021
12:17 pm

Paul Matchett talks about superstar filly War Of Athena

Mike Moon

The Vodacom Durban July is “a possibility”, but might be a step too far for the filly after an arduous Tiara campaign.

War of Athena, winner in Saturday’s Wilgerbosdrift SA Oaks at Turffontein, is set to run again in late May. Picture: JC Photographics

Matchett said War of Athena “pulled up very well” after her facile victory in Saturday’s Wilgerbosdrift SA Oaks at Turffontein, which saw her become only the fourth three-year-old to land the coveted Triple Tiara and R1-million bonus prize – after Igugu, Cherry On The Top and Summer Pudding.

“She is a very strong girl and the way she won – not fully extended – meant she recovered quickly,” said Matchett. “The next day she looked like she could have gone out and done it all again.”

It wasn’t quite showboating from jockey Muzi Yeni when he and War Of Athena cruised to the lead towards the end of the 2450m Oaks marathon and he began ostentatiously looking around for challengers, while keeping the filly on a tight rein, but it did clearly demonstrate her utter superiority over the opposition.

A major test of her talents will come in the Woolavington, a 2000m three-year-old fillies’ race at level weights, a totemic contest that often determines for connections the future direction of their precocious girls. A clash with Cape Town star Captain’s Ransom, Justin Snaith’s two-time Grade 1 champion, is keenly anticipated.

Matchett revealed that there had been approaches about buying War Of Athena from her current owners following her heroics this year, but Roy Wentzel and his wife Dr Rose Waterman-Wenzel are not interested in selling and want to keep racing their horse and, later, breed with her.

Matchett trained horses for Roy Wentzel when the two of them were resident in Zimbabwe before the trainer moved down south in 2002. Wentzel subsequently retired to Port Alfred on the South African coast and the two men linked up again. Matchett bought and campaigned successful horses such as Senor Lizard and Twilight Moon before picking up War Of Athena for a bargain-basement price of R30,000 at the Gauteng Ready To Run sale.

The filly is by the relatively new stallion Act Of War and was bred by sometime champion stud Summerhill in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. “We took a chance on Act Of War because he is by [former champion sire] Dynasty,” said Matchett. “She also had the looks – big and strong. Happily, those Dynasty genes are coming through.”

Other Act Of War progeny in Matchett’s 75-horse Randjesfontein stable include the gelding Battle Force, who notched up four straight when winning the last race at Turffontein on Saturday, and filly Only The Brave, who has acted as cover for War Of Athena of late but looks likely to add to her two career victories thus far.

Matchett confesses that War Of Athena is the best horse he has handled in a long career that has included two Zimababwe trainer championships and loads of local success with top horses like Tiza and Brave Mary.

However, the trainer is all pragmatism when it comes to the long-term prospects of his superstar. The 2021 Durban July remains a possibility but might be passed by after the rigours of summer – while winter season female features such as the Garden Province Stakes on July day are also on the radar.

Thereafter, a “couple of months” of well-earned farm rest has been booked, before a planned four-year-old campaign taking in the Western Cape and Highveld seasons.

Out of Summerhill’s broodmare Qapela (by Australian sire Requiem), War Of Athena has now won eight times from 14 starts and only been unplaced once. Accumulated winnings exceed R1.5 million.

History was made at Turffontein when Malmoos won the WSB SA Derby, thus completing the first Triple Crown-Triple Tiara same-year double.

Malmoos’s trainer Mike de Kock was also non-committal about his colt tackling the July so soon, saying on his stable website: “I’m not sure about taking Malmoos to Durban. We’re not hellbent on going to the Durban July. He’s had a hell of a season and we’ll see how he comes through it. Don’t forget we also took him to Cape Town. He’s been on the boil for a long time.

“The horse will tell us. If he’s sound and happy, we will have a crack at it. But these days the July is tough on three-year-olds, the ratings are crazy. But we’ll see.”

Malmoos has won seven of his eight starts, earning nearly R1.5 million – excluding the R2-million Triple Crown bonus. He’s by Captain Al out of Fort Wood mare Justthewayyouare.

In stark contrast to War Of Athena’s price tag of R30,000, Malmoos was bought for the late Sheikh Hamdan for R4.4 million at the 2019 National Yearling Sale – the second-top lot that year.

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