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Princess gets a right royal ‘Howzit’

by ZwemZa on April 21st, 2017
BENONI GAL: Princess Charlene teams up with the legend of Empress Club to spread the glamour at Turffontein. (JAMES OATWAY)

BENONI GAL: Princess Charlene teams up with the legend of Empress Club to spread the glamour at Turffontein. (JAMES OATWAY)

Her Serene Highness Princess Charlene of Monaco and a royal entourage from the Palais de Princier de Monaco will visit the southern suburbs of Joburg tomorrow.

She might be a significant part of European nobility these days, but our Charlene of Benoni still smaaks a day out at the gees back in her scruffy old ‘hood.

Turffontein Racecourse has cunningly linked the princess’s name with the existing Grade 1 Empress Club Stakes, a race that commemorates one of the finest fillies to grace the turf – thus delivering a double royal whammy and a “ladies’ day” of note.

Charlene is an old friend of South African horse racing, with her parents, Mike and Lyn Wittstock, being local thoroughbred owners. When she wasn’t training to become a member of South Africa’s Olympic swimming team to Sydney in 2000, the Wittstock kid sometimes accompanied her folks to the races.

After marrying Prince Albert II in 2011, Charlene threw herself into charity work, much of it back in her home country, through her own foundation. From poor schools in Daveyton township to disabled children and animal rescue organisations, many a worthy cause has benefited from cash conjured up by the magic wand of royalty.

After seeing Turffontein’s Charity Mile in person a few years ago, the princess shamelessly swiped the idea, staging a carbon-copy event at the Hippodrome Côte D’Azur for charities around Monte Carlo and having the glitzy occasion splashed in Hello! magazine.

Charity is once again the engine of this new initiative at Turffontein – with proceeds going to the SPCA, the Red Cross and the Highveld Horse Care Unit.

The HSH PC Empress Club Stakes is a contest for fillies and mares at weight-for-age terms over 1600m and has drawn an uncommonly strong entry.

A glance at the early bookmakers’ betting tells us that punters and pundits have little clue as to which of the 16 gals might win the thing.

At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, anything can happen when you chuck a bunch of competitive females together and challenge them to fight it out. Strictly in the horse sense, you understand.

Three candidates share weak joint-favouritism, at 6-1 no less: Fort Ember, Polyphonic and Safe Harbour. Next on the boards at 8-1 are another three: Star Express, Nother Russia and Negoramaro.

The rank outsiders at just 25-1 are The Centenary and Anna Pavlova, who both might be shorter if it wasn’t for very wide barrier draws out near the Restaurante Parreirinha, where Her Highness might do worse than go to for some lekker post-racing prawns.

One suspects money will come for Safe Harbour, if only because trainer Sean Tarry currently looks like he might win every race for which he saddles a runner. The three-year-old has won only three of her 13 starts, but she has campaigned in the big league and finished close to some speedy rivals.

The pedigree in the pack is Nother Russia, a daughter of the fabulous race mare Mother Russia, a winner of this very race in 2009 – alongside other Grade 1s in the Queen’s Plate, the Majorca Stakes and the Paddock Stakes.

The Mauritzfontein four-year-old has been sparingly raced, with just eight outings for four wins, and is yet to be tested in the way Safe Harbour has been. But the evidence suggests she is top class and ready to show it.

Expect a cavalry charge for the R1-million prize money and that prized photo of the connections collecting the trophy from Serene Charlene.

Mike Moon | Times Live

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