Jack Milner: When Wine Festival won her maiden over 1400m at Kenilworth by 5.25 lengths in what was her third visit to the racecourse, trainer Joey Ramsden appeared to have a decent filly on his hands.
However, she went off the boil immediately thereafter and it was not until she arrived on the Highveld that she found her way back to winner’s enclosure.
Of course, by performing moderately she also saw her merit rating drop, but there was a lot to like about the manner she kicked on last time to get the better of Samarra, drawing away to win by just over a length. What made the difference is uncertain. She may have preferred the firmer going, the high altitude or the fact she was racing over a straight 1600m.
Whatever the reason, Wine Festival returns to the Vaal on Thursday to contest Race 8 over 1600m up the Vaal straight. This is a FM 74 event and is stronger than her last race but with that comes a commensurate drop in weight.
So, while the four-year-old filly received a 1kg penalty for her performance, she will still carry 1.5kg less than last time. S’manga Khumalo rode her to victory in her last race and is back in the irons again.
There are some decent runners in this event and the main threat to Wine Festival could come from Lucky Houdalakis-trained runners – Long Pond and Elusive Butterfly. Long Pond has not raced since the Grade 1 Thekwini Stakes at Greyville in July. She finished unplaced on that occasion but was drawn No 11 of the 14 runners and was always well back on a course where you generally need to race handily.
Prior to that her form was decent and she could be a contender if not in need of the run.
Elusive Butterfly won her first two races well and was then given a break. She came back in October to contest an Assessment Plate and did not disgrace herself when finishing 3.75 lengths behind Grade 1 winner Redberry Lane. Karl Zechner takes the ride.
Sean Tarry-trained Hafla also has to come into the reckoning. This four-year-old daughter of Trippi has a good record at this course, and has also won her only run over the course and distance.
On that occasion she came from quite a long way back to beat Make Me Happy by 0.40 lengths, despite losing a length at the start. Her only other run on the Vaal straight course came over 1200m on debut in which she finished a 2.90-length fourth behind Promise.