THE WINNING COMBINATION
Jack Milner: War Of Athena’s story is the stuff that dreams are made of.
As this Act Of War filly sits on the brink of history, looking to become the fourth winner of SA Triple Tiara, one can only be awed by the tale of this unfashionably bred filly.
She caught the eye of Roy Wentzel and his wife, Dr Rose Waterman-Wentzel, when they saw the video sent out by breeder Summerhill Stud prior to the Ready To Run Sale.
“We went to the sale and they showed the videos again. We looked at various horses but the thing that caught our eye was her action,” explained Roy on Wednesday.
“When we went to look at her, she had quite a deep cut on her shoulder. That may have chased a few people away and also, she was not the most striking horse.
“I opened the bidding at R20,000 and got her for R30,000.”
She has now won four successive feature races, including two Grade 1 events.
On Saturday she will be looking to claim the R1-million bonus that goes with a Triple Tiara victory.
The Wentzels are not new to horseracing. In fact, they have been prominent owners in Zimbabwe for some 30 years, and their horses were trained in Harare by Paul Matchett.
When racing in Zimbabwe failed, they pulled out of the sport and started to spend quite a lot of time at their holiday home in Port Alfred.
After some 15 years in an owners’ wilderness, Roy got a call from his son. “He’d actually worked for Paul (Matchett) as a stable assistant, and he said to me ‘it’s time your colours won again’. He bought me a horse called Senor Lizard, who went on to win a few races.
“I asked my wife, ‘do we know what we’re getting back into?’. We then went to the Durban sales where I bought Twilight Moon. We paid R20,000 for him and sold to Hong Kong for R2 million.
“He was a good horse, and we would have had a lot of fun with him. Unfortunately, he hasn’t managed to win a race in Hong Kong.
Roy concedes that while this is an exciting event for them “the stress and anxiety is incredible”.
“Expectations are good, we know she is exceptionally well, but we have been involved in racing long enough to understand there are plenty pitfalls along the way.
“We have watched each of her races with fear and trepidation, but once she does get going, she’s got enough class. She really is outstanding, and I hope she can do it on Saturday for herself.
“It’s going to be very exciting. We haven’t been able to contain ourselves during the last two weeks.
“We also realise she has become the people’s horse. When she goes out to exercise, Paul’s grooms all clap for her, and the grooms from other trainers join in.
“She’s also a great advert for racing, that you don’t have to spend millions to get a top horse.”
Like many class horses, she is not the most amiable of fillies. “She’s full of attitude, a typical alpha female.
“She can get a little uppity, but she knows she’s the boss. I think she prefers men to women. Maybe that’s normal. When I go up to her box, she’s okay. But when my wife goes up, she wants nothing to do with her.”
The Wentzels have received “many wild offers” to sell her but War Of Athena will stay in South Africa and they aim to breed with her and the other fillies.
Among them are Gee For Go, who won on Tuesday, and Only The Brave.
“They have been used to make the pace for War Of Athena, but now they will be racing for themselves and we believe they will do very well in their own right.”