sean tarry kevin shea national colourNational Colour with Sean Tarry and Kevin Shea
(Sean Tarry Racing Stables)

In a recent article about the lack of success of British trainers in European Group One races this season, Philip Freedman, Chairman of the British Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association and Flat Pattern Panel, alluded to the considerable success chalked up by South African runners in international events in the past few years, and the fact that there were new discoveries being made every day about the quality of horses produced in countries that were hitherto considered to be back-waters. There is a growing recognition of the virtues of horses bred in this country, but anything less than that would’ve amounted to a case of people keeping their heads in the sands.

It’s inescapably true that from relatively small beginnings, South African-trained horses have left an indelible mark on the affairs of international racing in the past few years, principally in Dubai, Hong Kong & Singapore, but by no means limited to these regions. South African breds have posted Gr.1 wins in Australia, the United States, and on Saturday came perilously close to achieving the same distinction in the United Kingdom. While it was by no means the first narrow shave experienced by a South African runner in England in Group One company (remember Irridescence just a year ago)?, National Colour’s phenomenal effort in the Gr.1 Nunthorpe Stakes (which was originally scheduled for York, but with the water-logging at that course, staged at Newmarket), was not only a testimony to her exceptional talents, but also to a tale of courage and endurance).

A trailblazer in the sprint division in her native land, National Colour carried the hopes of the nation when she went abroad in 2007 and blitzed a competitive field in her first outing in Dubai. She was then scheduled for the big sprint on World Cup night, but stumbled in the starting stalls and chipped her knees, putting a premature end to an ambitious programme. Culminating with France’s biggest sprint on the first Sunday in October.

She has had to recover from fairly invasive surgery in order to get her life back on the road again, and she gave notice of her intentions with an excellent fifth in the July Cup last month. However, Newmarket would not be the chosen course for a filly of her phenomenal speed, as the last furlong on that famous trip is uphill, and, in our view, defeats much of the object where a display of raw speed is the intention of a competitive event.

Her natural speed took her well clear in the early stages of the race, only to be blunted as she climbed the hill at the death, where the incline stopped what would’ve been a match-winning effort on other courses. In the end she went down just a half length, gallant to the last stride.

For our money, we can’t wait to see her in her next assignment in the Prix de l’Abbaye, on “Arc” day at Longchamp, the first Sunday in October. Provided she gets good ground (and that’s a big “provided”, as the Arc meeting is often characterized by softness,) it will take a world beater to head her on what is fair, flat and speed favouring when the going’s on top. Those that watched Avontuur’s resident, VAR, blitz his field from end-to-end a few years backs, can take this off the memory shelf and smoke it, if they want.

Meanwhile, nobody’s displayed more patience and deserves more commendation than the owner/trainer combination of Chris van Niekerk and Sean Tarry, and they carry the wishes of everyone at Summerhill for Saturday’s effort.