STUART Pettigrew and Paul Matchett met each other in 1978 in the old Rhodesia, when Pettigrew was a jockey and Matchett was a handler at the start at Borrowdale Park. Believe it.

Knowing Pettigrew, he would’ve sworn at the handlers many times, and Matchett would’ve been on the receiving end more than once. “Yes, you are right, that is so, because I swear at everybody, today still,” confirmed Pettigrew.

Pettigrew left what had just turned Zimbabwe in 1981, became a trainer in South Africa, and stayed in touch with Matchett, who took out a licence of his own and became multiple champion trainer in Zimbabwe years later.

They’ve been colleagues at Randjesfontein for the last two decades, recognised today as two of the best horsemen in South African racing. They travel together when they race out of town, stay in the same B&B’s and race together on occasion.

The pair still takes each other on with jokes, challenges and chirps, and more than often going head-to-head on the racetrack, like in this weekend’s Gr1 Thekwini Stakes over 1600m at Hollywoodbets Greyville, in which Pettigrew’s unbeaten filly Anything Goes held on to win by 0.30-lengths from Matchett’s War Of Athena, who appeared to be gaining fast.

“The hell she was going to get to us,” argued Pettigrew. “If War Of Athena was drawn right next to us, Anything Goes would’ve found extra to beat her. Look at the replay. Anything Goes quickens fast at the 400m -mark and gets a few lengths away from them. That was a lesson, perhaps Diego De Gouveia should’ve waited a second longer to let her go and we would’ve won easier.”

Anything Goes (far aside), defeats War Athena.
Anything Goes (far aside), defeats War Athena.

Matchett disagreed and said: “Listen, we’ll never know, but Stuart will surely agree that a wide draw costs anyone over a mile at Greyville a few lengths. He won’t deny that. His filly was drawn four, mine was drawn wide at 11. That’s the story. I think with a better draw we would’ve won the race. War Of Athena has improved a lot in recent weeks. She’s a top filly.”

The replay is somewhat deceptive in that S’Manga Khumalo appears to make the first move on War Of Athena, who improved her position three wide of Anything Goes. Matchett’s filly actually raced ahead of her for a few strides, until Anything Goes ducked to the inside rail and accelerated so well she left them all standing for 200m. This won her the race.

“I’ll give Matchie that, War Of Athena is a really good filly, it was a race of note and the time was better than the filly who won the Premiers, but we won and the result’s in the frame,” Pettigrew said.

“We go on from here, the rivalry is enjoyable, part of the game. If Paul had won, I would’ve been first to congratulate him. In fact, I said to him last Friday night, ‘If we get beat, I’m hoping it will be by your filly.’ ”

Both top-of-the-class three-year-olds will be aimed at the Emperors Ready To Run Stakes in November. Ian van Schalkwyk and Anton Marx paid R275,000 for Anything Goes, a daughter of the wellestablished VAR from Dance Domain, bred by Varsfontein, while Matchett got War Of Athena (originally named Odie Sansom) for R30,000 from Summerhill.

War Of Athena is by the hitherto unproven Act Of War from a mare by Requiem, one of the most disappointing stallions of recent years, and Matchett, who has had uncanny success with ‘cheapies’, explained: “We’ve had a good run with inexpensive horses. We paid R30,000 for War Of Athena, I wanted something out of the Dynasty line, and we trained her relation Mzwilili, who was a Gr3 winning filly.

“I like to follow families. Between good conformation and family lines you can find good horses for good prices. War Of Athena was a particularly nice specimen too, I like the stallion. Her female line suggests she will go twice around the track, and maybe over further than a mile we will have the better of Anything Goes.”

Matchett’s resurgence of form started in 2017 with the R40,000 Gr1-winning buy Brave Mary, followed by another 30-grander in Gr2 winner Running Brave and stakes winner Twilight Moon, a R20,000 stakeswinning purchase by Wylie Hall, since exported.

“War Of Athena belongs to the Wentzel family who also owned Twilight Moon, and we are very happy for them,” Matchett said.

Running Brave herself is just an absolute peach of a mare. She won her seventh career start with another game, pillar-to-post win in the Gr1 Kuda Gold Bracelet over 2000m, her second success in this race.

Running Brave (Muzi Yeni) - Candiese Lenferna.
Running Brave (Muzi Yeni) – Candiese Lenferna

Some form students may have overlooked last year’s win, her only start over 2000m, considering that her recent triumphs have been over middle distances. She started at 8-1 and Matchett said: “She beat Camphoratus in this race last year, who just narrowly beat us in the Gr1 Empress Club Stakes.

“Running Brave has also beaten the multiple Gr1 winner Celtic Sea. She’s five years old now, actually getting better and she still has a chance of getting her well-deserved Grade 1 win.”

Running Brave, like Brave Mary, is by Storm Cat stallion Brave Tin Soldier, an excellent sire who has had infertility problems, but is reportedly doing the job again with the care and planning of Jill Fox at The Fort Stud.

“He’s a terrific stallion,” said Matchett. “He’s had almost no progeny to look at the last few years but I will buy again if he delivers at The Fort.”

He added: “Running Brave is really brave, she pulls in her races, as you can see, so she just wants to be left alone to find her place in a race, and then she strides.

“Just when you think she’s wasted all her energy on pulling, she gives you more, she just keeps going, a wonderful mare!”

Running Brave races for Fanie Bronkhorst and Ludolph Neethling, and she’s returned just a shade short of R1,5-million in stake earnings.