gold cup south africa
gold cup south africa

1945 Owners Gold Cup Trophy

(Photo : Summerhill Stud Archives)


Greyville, 3200m, 26 June 2010

KZN racing authorities can say what they like about the big three of their “Championship Season”, but there’s no doubt that after the “July”, the Canon Gold Cup is a clear second. In fact, if you’re speaking of betting turnover, its one of the nation’s big three. Judged purely by prize money, it’s eclipsed by the July, the Met and the Summer Cup, but as an attractor of people and a generator of turnover, it gives best only to the first two.

As a crowd-pleaser, you might well argue that the glamour events are also those sponsored by Vodacom and J&B, but for sheer elegance and a sense of occasion, you’d probably give first prize to the Gold Cup, though it now faces stern competition from the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate and the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup.

One thing you can’t take away from the Gold Cup is tradition. Its being run for the 90th occasion this Saturday, and there was a time when every self respecting trainer took the compelling leap from the Durban July to the Gold Cup. That was then of course, and this is now, and the difference between those days and these, lies mainly in the trophy.

Some years ago, Sotheby’s auctioned the 1945 Owner’s Gold Cup trophy won by Hartford’s Salmon, and since its rightful home was here at Summerhill (which incorporates Hartford these days), we felt we had to buy it. So prized were these pure gold trophies and so magnificent the craftsmanship, we had to venture a king’s ransom in order to bring it home.

That’s what people were racing for in those days, and it was the knowledge that there were just a handful of these left in the vaults of the Durban Turf Club, which led us to propose to our old friend Alec Foster back in the 90’s, that we try to breed a Gold Cup winner. Being the sportsman that he is, Alec proceeded to do just that, the fruits of his endeavours being Cereus’ cruise in the 2002 renewal.

In all, we bred four horses with that in mind, one of them a nine time winner at distances up to a mile (we obviously read his pedigree wrong), one a Champion Three Year Old filly of her year and a dual Oaks winner, Icy Air (the recipe was right there,) and the other one damn near did it again. He was Amphitheatre, whose stirring victory in the Gold Vase (Gr.2) on the eve of the race cost him a 2kg penalty, which in the end cost him the Gold Cup as well, as he went down a neck in the dying strides to Highland Night.

The honour roll of previous Gold Cups is replete with great names of South African racing, not the least of whom is Charlie Barends, who won just one July with Extinguisher, but who made the Gold Cup his own with seven exceptional victories, the first of which was aboard Chez Monty, the first horse (and the only one) to win two consecutive renewals.

Summerhill and Hartford have a distinguished record in the race. No property has produced more than three winners outside of ours, which has strung together a total of five all told, commencing with Salmon, Cosmonaut, and Alhambra, and in modern times Cereus and the Champion Stayer of two seasons ago, Desert Links.

So, we have the pedigree to produce another one, and going with Winning Leap is a little like picking Brazil to win the World Cup. That means he’s a fair bet, and at 5-1 a fairly generous one. The bookmakers would be wise to think again if their reasoning has to do with history. No three-year-old has ever been to the winner’s podium before, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be done now.

There are enough examples in Australian racing to suggest that a properly programmed horse can do it. The one thing we do have to remember though, with a marathon like this, is that while good horses can sometimes pick up Group One races on the way to their objectives, it doesn’t often happen in a gruelling competition like the Gold Cup. You need to fix your sights firmly on your target, and get your horse there at the top of his game, because the “A” game is the only one that will do.