Sunday’s Group One Mercury Sprint was a revelation once again of the remarkable depth among South Africa’s sprinters. Three seasons ago CATALOOCHEE ran some of the fastest times in the world, including an all-Africa record for 1000 metres. Last year local fans were treated to some spectacular racing as MYTHICAL FLIGHT went one step further, only to be beaten in his final start by WAR ARTIST, in the same Mercury Sprint. WAR ARTIST has since gone on to make a significant impression in Group One company in the UK this season, and now we have a new star burning even brighter.
Perhaps the most appealing high-flyer imaginable, three year old JJ THE JET PLANE has been in take-off mode right through the season, taking his third consecutive Group One in track record time on Sunday in the self-same Mercury Sprint, after toting an almost impossible 60kg to victory in the Golden Horse Sprint G1, on his previous start. By any standards anywhere, this is a racehorse; and it’ll take an enormously talented one to lower his colours, when he gets to his new home in Hong Kong under the tutelage of Mike de Kock. Not that we should take a single thing away from the masterful manner in which he’s been handled by Lucky Houdalakis at home. Here’s a man in only his second year as a trainer, and he’s managed “JJ” like a seasoned veteran.
And his victim on Sunday? The luckless Summerhill-bred REBEL KING, whose fourth Group One second it was. Let’s not forget, it took MYTHICAL FLIGHT, WAR ARTIST and now JJ THE JET PLANE to deny him the glory of Group One victory. Mercifully, his vanquishers have either left, or are about to take flight, so perhaps his time is still to come, though it will take a man like Charles Laird to spare him long enough to do so. Those with memories will recall Charlie’s expert management of the career of six-time Equus Awards finalist and three times Champion, NHLAVINI, who was still contesting (and winning) at Group One level, well into his ninth season.