The Gr 1 Garden Province Stakes has attracted fields of considerable quality and depth over the last few years and racing fans have been treated to some vintage contests in the aftermath of the Vodacom Durban July itself. This year, the overall depth factor is not quite there, but racegoers are still in for a great spectacle as two class acts go head to head in the form of Ebony Flyer and Princess Victoria.
Neither runner needs much introduction to local followers of the sport. Princess Victoria was the undisputed champion juvenile filly last season and has continued in much the same vein this season, winning the Cape Fillies Guineas, Poinsettia Stakes and Tibouchina Stakes. Her two defeats came with reasonable excuses - she took on the males in the Cape Guineas and, in hindsight, finishing third to champion miler Variety Club was no disgrace. Then came the defeat in the SA Fillies Sprint where she was caught on the outside of the track on a day when the going proved to be very much inferior but that was clearly not a fair reflection of her ability and she duly bounced back in the Tibouchina Stakes. Significantly, she took a while to get going in that race, run over 1450m, and only imposed herself late. That run suggested that she needs a bit of ground these days. She is an obvious candidate for top honours with Anton Marcus aboard.
Ebony Flyer had the better of the going in the Fillies Sprint and produced a stunning late surge to win going away, despite the trip being short of her best. Fans of the Princess will argue - with plenty of justification - that the younger filly did not get a fair opportunity that day and will now be gunning for revenge. It's not that straightforward, though: Ebony Flyer is a freakish talent and one can only guess what she might have been capable of had she not been plagued by breathing problems which have seen her undergo corrective surgery on two occasions. Not that she's done too badly, of course, winning three Gr 1 races and producing a fine third as an inexperienced 3-year-old in the 2011 Queens Plate. So, whatever the state of the going, those in the Ebony Flyer camp will argue that she's good enough to have won anyway.
Whatever ones feeling on the subject, only Saturday's race will be able to settle the issue decisively. A potential concern for Ebony Flyer is that this is her second run after a rest but, apart from that, one can't find too many chinks in her armour. It's going to be an enthralling duel but if Bernard Fayd'Herbe can get the huge daughter of Jet Master to kick early in the straight, she will prove difficult to catch.
It's hard to look beyond the two big guns for a potential winner but the one horse who has the record to spoil the party for them is Happy Archer. Her overall record is far from consistent but there is no arguing with her record at the July meeting where she has posted Gr 1 victories for the past two years. She looked a champion in the making when storming home in the Thekwini Stakes as a juvenile and, although she clearly had her share o problems and failed to live up to that form for quite a while thereafter, she bounced back with a clear-cut victory over Beach Beauty in this race last year. She's often disappointed againstweaker opposition than this but there's no doubting her innate ability and it would be foolish to write her off here.
The rest look to be running for place money and one horse that has to go into all trifecta and quartet bets is the thoroughly honest Frequent Flyer. Brett Crawford's runner doesn't know how to run a bad race and gave Ebony Flyer a scare in the Majorca Stakes before finishing third in the Tibouchina.
Others in with chances of a minor placing are Mombasa, following her excellent second in the Tibouchina, Felix The Cat, who saves her best for this track and Reason To Believe, if she can reproduce her KRA Fillies Guineas runner-up effort.
An enthralling contest is in store and Ebony Flyer is taken to just shade Princess Victoria with Happy Archer and Frequent Flyer next best. Felix The Cat is the one to include for the larger quartets.