south african horse racing

South African Racing
(Neil Gould/Corporate Sports)

The South African racing season that has just drawn to a close will be remembered as a vintage one, writes Nicola Hayward for Thoroughbred Internet.

Pocket Power won the Queen’s Plate G1 and J&B Met G1 double for the second successive year and then went on to dead heat with Dancer’s Daughter for first place in the G1 Vodacom Durban July. In so doing, he helped Jet Master to the title of Champion Sire for the second year.

Jet Master not only sired Pocket Power and his full sister - the G2-winning filly River Jetez (who was fourth in the Vodacom Durban July) - but also the top class sprinter JJ The Jet Plane, winner of his last five outings, three of which have been at Group One level. For this reason, his progeny finished with earnings of R14,437,903, nearly R5.5m ahead of Western Winter in second place.

Summerhill Stud was as mercurial in the manner in which it once again won the title of Champion Breeder. The team at Summerhill sent out 241 runners through the season for total stakes earnings of R15,835,423. Odessa Stud (D Cohen and sons) was runner up with stakes earned of R10,076,996. Imbongi (Russian Revival) was the top earner from Summerhill, who are also the breeders of the good filly Outcome, the ill-fated Emperor Napoleon and G3 winner Umngazi. Champion Freshman Sire honours went to the late Labeeb, who stood at Summerhill before his premature death two years ago.

In 2006/2007 the trainers’ title went down to the wire with a three-way tussle between Charles Laird, Geoff Woodruff and Mike de Kock. Geoff Woodruff prevailed and Charles Laird finished second. In mid-July, Charles Laird would have been forgiven for thinking that this year he had it in the bag, but Mike de Kock is ignored at one’s peril. Mike de Kock had a fine day on Champions’ Day at Clairwood on July 2: Zirconeum was runner-up in the G1 Thekwini Fillies Stakes and Rocks Off, an imported son of Orpen, won the G1 Premier’s Champion Stakes while Front House prevailed in the G2 Gold Circle Oaks. To cap it all, Winter Weather won the G2 Gold Circle Derby. In contrast, Charles Laird had a day he would rather forget: crack two-year-old colt Warm White Night was well beaten in the G1 Premier’s Champion Stakes and Our Giant faded in the G1 Champion’s Cup.

The trainers had to wait for the seventh race at the Vaal on the last day of the season before it became clear that Charles Laird would once again have to settle for the runner-up spot – by a margin of just R158,039 on total local earnings by Mike de Kock of R12,509,614. Third place went to young Cape-based trainer Justin Snaith with the other top Cape trainer Mike Bass in fourth. The performances of Justin Snaith and Mike Bass deserve mention since neither sent horses to any of the lucrative Highveld meetings – home base to both Mike de Kock and Charles Laird. Not only did Justin Snaith send out Dancer’s Daughter for four G1 wins in the season but he also conditioned dual G1 winner Russian Sage and Captain’s Lover winner of the G1 Cape Fillies Guineas. Mike Bass conditions Pocket Power and River Jetez, as well as the G1-winning filly Consensual and Bill Of Rights a G3 winner.

This is the fourth time that Mike de Kock has taken the trainers’ chamionship, but is perhaps the most impressive given his well-reported falling out with Team Valor, and the fact that he had such an outstanding season abroad, highlighted by Group wins for Archipenko in Dubai, Hong Kong and Great Britain. Unlike his competitors he did not have a real superstar in his local yard this year and it is testament to his canny ability with horses and the great team that he has collected around him that he was able to take the title. Some notable performers include Thundering Star, winner of the G1 Gold Cup at the start of the season, Archipenko, the G1-winning two-year-old Forest Path and G1 sprinting Brazilian-bred filly Rat Burana

Mike de Kock has done so much to put the South African racehorse on the international racing map. He had the courage to take Horse Chestnut to America and then to go to Dubai with his first small string when everyone at home said that he would fail. Because of his vision and the success of horses like Victory Moon, Ipi Tombe and Irridescence, the face of South African racing has changed and the international spotlight falls on the region far more often. Not only has the country exported some excellent horses but the horsemen that go with them are able to hold their own anywhere in the world – no one more so than the current champion trainer himself.