pocket powerPocket Power
(Photo : Gold Circle)

On the eve of the 32nd renewal of the J&B Met, Nicola Hayward takes an indepth look at the ascent of Pocket Power, dubbed “the people’s champion”.

nicola haywardNicola Hayward Thoroughbred Internet“Pocket Power boasts a resume like few other equine stars to have graced the South African turf. As a result, this two-time Horse Of The Year stands on the cusp of immortality as he attempts to become the only horse in history to win the Group One J&B Metropolitan Handicap for three successive years.

Pocket Power is from the first crop of Champion sire Jet Master, who was also a Champion racehorse in his own right. Jet Master retired to stud in 2001 with eight Group One wins to his credit and has already sired eight individual Group One winners. Pocket Power and his little sister, River Jetez, are from the Prince Florimund mare Stormsvlei.

Pocket Power’s ascent to fame began at the 2004 Cape Sales, when Terry Silcock picked him out for Marsh Shirtliff, a Cape Town-based businessman with an enduring passion for the “Sport of Kings”. The youngster was acquired for a sum of R190,000 from Zandvliet Stud. In making the purchase, Marsh Shirtliff outbid Arthur Webber and his wife Rina, who are from Port Elizabeth. Arthur and Rina Webber later approached Marsh Shirtliff’s trainer, Mike Bass, to ask if a partnership in the horse might be considered. Happily, the couple secured a third share in Pocket Power and Arthur Webber recently admitted that the horse had changed their lives.

In August 2005, Pocket Power made an inauspicious debut when finishing fifth in a Maiden Plate over 1200m. He eventually managed to break his maiden on the fourth attempt in November of that same year over a mile at Kenilworth; a distance that he has never since been beaten over at that track. In the winter of 2006, Pocket Power won the Winter Guineas (Gr3), the Winter Classic (Gr3) over 1800m and the Winter Derby (Gr3) over 2400m. In September, after a three month break, he placed fifth in an Open Handicap - the last time that he was unplaced in any race.

When the summer arrived, Pocket Power beat current Dubai Racing Carnival hero Silver Mist, to claim the first of his three L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate (Gr1) victories, followed in January 2007 by his first J&B Met (Gr1) title. The Durban winter season saw Pocket Power run second in the Gold Challenge (Gr1) and fourth to Hunting Tower in the Vodacom Durban July (Gr1), before finishing his four-year-old season as Equus Horse Of The Year.

As a five-year-old Pocket Power returned to the track better than ever, taking second in The Merchants (Gr2) over 1200m before winning the Green Point Stakes (Gr2) over 1600m, as well as his racking up second victories in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate (Gr1) and the J&B Met (Gr1). After arriving in Durban for the winter season and finishing fourth in both the Drill Hall Stakes (Gr2) over 1400m and the Gold Challenge (Gr2) over a mile, some began to suggest that Pocket Power could only win at Kenilworth. Pocket Power was to have the last word though when sharing the laurels in the Vodacom Durban July (Gr1), the most important race of them all, with the filly, Dancer’s Daughter. Then, just three weeks later, he was second by half a length to Buy And Sell in the Champions Cup (Gr1) over a mile and he was once again Equus Champion Horse Of The Year.

Like a good red wine from the farm of his birth, the six-year-old has matured still further and the 2008/2009 season is proving to be something of a vintage one for Pocket Power. He won the Green Point Stakes (Gr2) and was impressive with a close second to Blue Tiger in the Diadem Stakes (Gr2) over just 1200m, before winning the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate for an unprecedented third year in a row. Now, facing the race of his life in the J&B Met tomorrow, there are few who look to have the measure of this great horse.

One runner who could cause an upset, however, is River Jetez, full sister to Pocket Power, who is also owned in partnership by Marsh Shirtliff. The mare is unlucky never to have posted a Group One victory, but she has won at Group Two level and is no stranger to competing with colts and geldings. She is well weighted to boot and could give her big brother a real run for his money.

Marsh Shirtliff loves his racing and, as a result, owns a number of horses, mostly in partnership, including Floatyourboat (another son of Jet Master), who also lines up in the J&B Met on Saturday. Another that carries his well-known pink, blue and white colours is Jay Peg, the son of Camden Park who, after a great three-year-old season at home went abroad and took Dubai, then Singapore, by storm in 2008. Blue Tiger and Gaultier are two others owned in partnership with Marsh Shirtliff, who also co-owned Tobe Or Nottobe, the Equus Champion Sprinter in 2004. Tobe Or Nottobe is a son of Caesour and was Marsh Shirtliff’s first significant success story on the track.

It is unique for any horse to line up on three successive occasions for a race the magnitude of the J&B Met; but for that horse to have won twice and have a very real chance of winning a third time is remarkable. Pocket Power may not have won the three-year-old Classics, and he may never have raced on the Highveld, but he has done everything else to perfection. Thanks to the professional team at Mike Bass Racing, his troublesome near fore has been kept sound and he has displayed a very unique brand of toughness over three and a half seasons.

Irrespective of what happens in the J&B Met, South African turf lovers have enjoyed the rare privilege of watching our most accomplished racing son display unprecedented courage and determination. And, whether the gallant gelding travels abroad or stays at home, he will forever be one of those racehorses that are spoken about with awe and wonder; a real hero and a true champion, Pocket Power.”