While the breeders, stallion and jockey’s Championships are pretty much in the bag for this year, there is a very tight battle for the laurels on the National Trainers log. For the first time, Charles Laird has pulled himself to the front, following victories in the continents richest race, the Gomma Gomma Challenge and the continent’s most prestigious race, the Vodacom July, as well as second in the J&B Met (so he’s excelled in all of the Big Three). It’s a great compliment to Charles Laird and his team that he heads the list ahead of two of the best trainers South Africa has ever produced, both champions in Mike de Kock and Geoff Woodruff.
There’s not a great deal in it (Charles leads by R200 000 odd), and it’s going to go all the way to the wire, with ten days of the racing year left, to decide whose going to be “King”.
Speaking to Charles last week, while recognizing the magnitude of where he is right now, he did say that his horses were in programmes and he would not be loading his entries any more than usual, in his attempt to hold onto his lead. Noble words from a man who hasn’t known the meaning of “Champion” yet – perhaps he should try it first to see what it feels like!
The three of them traded punches over the weekend, and as one popped up with another winner, so one of the others would retaliate with one of their own, and so it seems that the Championship races on Dubai Racing Carnival Champions Day this weekend will probably be the determining factor.
Our people at Summerhill know the agony of the last minute charge by a rival only too well, as we had spent the last six weeks of the 2004 season exchanging blows with Maine Chance, who grabbed the lead back from us on each of six successive weekends, after we’d managed to wrest it from them in mid-week. That’s how tight it was, and in the end, it went right to the last race on the last day of the calendar (which was Champions Day). Two Summerhill graduates, Royal Emblem and Fez ( the latter bred and raised at Summerhill for the Kjell Foundation) took out the Thekwini and Premiers Champion Juvenile Stakes (both Grade One’s) respectively, and we held a slender R180 000 lead going into the Champions Cup itself. That’s where Maine Chance struck with Gary Alexander’s James Jaguar, taking the title for the 7th or 8th time, but this time (and for the first time) since ownership of that famous nursery had changed hands. In that year, Dr Andreas Jacobs of Jacobs coffee fame had acquired the operation and its name, so his acquisition was instantly gratified with a Breeder’s Championship in what has become the most intensely competitive premiership in international racing.
For what it’s worth, until that time, the Championship had only been held by five entities in all of history, with only Birch Bros, Koster Bros, D Cohen and Sons, Highlands Farms and Maine Chance among its holders.
The momentum which had seen Summerhill produce a record number of Feature race winners in 2003 and our second place in 2004, eventually culminated in glory in 2005, and 2006, and now with a lead of close to R6 million, it’s both technically and practically impossible for anyone to catch us before this year ends on the 31st July.
It’s time for us to remember how fortunate we are to be in this position. More on that when it becomes a reality. There should be no crowing before the singing!