The Grade 2 Sceptre Stakes to be run over 1200m at Kenilworth Racecourse on Sunday, a Weight For Age event for fillies and mares, has recently been dominated by locally-trained horses and that trend looks to continue with only two out-of-province runners in the field.
Probably the best filly over this distance in the country, Gibraltar Blue, does not make the trip whilst the intended raid of the top KZN filly Val De Ra was aborted due to a virus.
The only out of province horses are the Neil Bruss-trained On Her Toes and the Mitch Wiese-trained Edukat.
Neither looks likely to be the first “foreigner” to win the race since the Herman Brown-trained Discover Diamonds in 1994.
On Her Toes is very capable, having won the Grade 1 Alan Robertson as a juvenile over this trip, but her previous outing was her first for more than a year and having finished more than a dozen lengths behind Covenant she looks likely to still need this outing.
Edukat is rated only 80 but probably ran above that rating last time when winning a Conditions Race over 1400m and she will at least be suited by the tough Kenilworth 1200m.
The Mike Bass-trained three-year-old Covenant was an impressive winner of the Weight For Age Southern Cross Stakes over 1000m in her last start.
She has tons of speed and would become the fourth three-year-old to win it in the last six years, but the question mark is whether she can stave off the likes of the Justin Snaith-trained four-year-old State Blue over a trip she has never tried before.
State Blue was dropped out in the Southern Cross Stakes in order to get to the favoured outside of the track and was making up ground hand over fist in the closing stages.
The Snaith family have a fine record in this race in recent times with Laisserfaire and Joie De Grise both winning it twice in succession.
Snaith has three other contestants and the five-year-old Dance With Al also has an outstanding chance having beaten the boys to win the Grade 2 Betting World Merchants over course and distance in November, not to mention her one length third in the Sceptre last year.
Snaith has always felt that on her day this mare can match it with the best and she will be at her peak having been by no means disgraced against most of the best male sprinters in the country two weeks ago.
Snaith’s two three-year-old contestants are Country Girl and Maureen De Lago.
Country Girl faded into a four length fourth in the Southern Cross after being handy and is unlikely to do better over this trip.
Maureen De Lago’s Southern Cross run was well below par, but she ploughed a lone path on the inside and should do better from a higher draw this time. In fact her previous run over the same course and distance was an excellent effort especially considering it came after a rest.
Joey Ramsden has won the race twice in the last five years with Starlit and Badger’s Cove and has a chance here with Possible Dream, a powerfully striding sort who caught the eye over course and distance last time. The low draw of one is against her.
Ramsden’s Seal Of Approval has run well in her last two outings over the course and distance from unfavourable low draws and as one that stays 1400m has a similar profile to the yard’s shock winner of this race last year, Badger’s Cove.
Darryl Hodgson runs the speedy Comet Chaser, who has won three times in five starts at Kenilworth, but now returns from a six month break after an overall disappointing Durban campaign. She also has to prove she gets 1200m.
Hodgson’s other charge is Play Nice, who is 2,5kg worse off with Possible Dream despite a 0,75 length defeat last time over course and distance.
Vaughan Marshall’s La Rosita also has a tough task to reverse form with Possible Dream, but on the other hand has a form chance of matching State Blue.
Stablemate Madrisa had won five in a row over sprints, including the Grade 3 Nursery, before failing over 1400m. She is the third highest rated behind On Her Toes and Dance With Al, but does have quite a tough low draw of three.
The Glen Puller-trained Twinkle Star has suddenly found form as a seven-year-old, winning five times this year, including four times over course and distance, but she is still only rated 84 and has a tough task at the weights.
The Mike Bass-trained three-year-old Pisces Star looks held.
The Glen Kotzen-trained three-year-old Dream River looks a promising sort but has another tough low draw.
Seven favourites have won in the last 15 runnings of this race, but five double figure priced horses have won in that time including the 40-1 Badger’s Cove and the 33-1 chance Joshlin in the last three years.
This year’s race looks to be open again, although according to draw fortunes, class and form, the one that stands out is Dance With Al.