nigel and rose leheup
nigel and rose leheup

Nigel and Rose Leheup

(Photo : Leigh Willson)

Canon Gold Cup 2009

We went to the Gold Cup on Saturday, fully expecting our Sunday evening guests, Rose and Nigel Leheup to come home victorious for the second time in three years. Their home-bred colt, Diamond Quest, was the hero of the 2006 renewal of Africa’s greatest staying race, the Canon Gold Cup (Gr.1), and we were lucky at Summerhill to have spawned the Gold Cup ace of 2008,Desert Links.

As it happens, Diamond Quest never really fired after his spectacular victory on July day in the Gold Vase (Gr.2), but in the process he left the spoils open to the grand dame of the game, Bridget Oppenheimer, who bred first and second past the post.

Most commercial breeders have given up on breeding horses with an aptitude for the mile and half to two mile trip, but not “Mrs O”. There’s no commercial imperative behind Mauritzfontein Stud, and so she simply gets on with the business of breeding the best horses she can. Saturday’s exacta for her black and yellow silks was another tribute to a private breeding establishment that keeps on churning out the class.

Well done to you and your team at the farm.

One dividend which accrued from Diamond Quest’s return to the races was the maiden visit to Summerhill (and Hartford House) of Nigel and Rose Leheup, two dyed-in-the-wool “victims” of the horse game who flew out especially from the UK for Saturday’s sports. But Diamond Quest’s story is not an ordinary one. He left South Africa after his famous victory in the most cherished of this continent’s staying races, for the desert sands of Dubai, where he promptly showed his class by winning a mile event in a competitive field.

He went on to Royal Ascot, where for a moment in that great festivals premier showcase the Gold Cup (Gr.1), he had South Africans on the edges of their seats as he turned for home just one behind the immortal Yeats, only to find the last half mile of the 2.5 mile journey beyond him. He tweaked a tendon in that race, and for most horses, that would be the end of the competitive road. But like Mrs Oppenheimer on Saturday, Diamond Quest had other news for his connections, and giving up was not an option.

He went home for a well-earned rest at their Buckinghamshire property, Barrettstown Manor Farm, where they have a veterinary hospital on the property, and where his recovery was not only complete, but near miraculous.

With a new spring in his step, and being the property of people who care for their animals, when the frozen wet and wind of the following winter descended upon Diamond Quest, they could see that he was yearning for this country, and he was sent back with gracious retirement on the agenda. Yet no-one had reckoned on the skills of Mike Bass as a trainer and not long after he was back in training. If he never does anything else in his life, his win on July day in the Gold Vase tells a story of a horse with a heart, and a couple of owners with their hearts in the right place.