Love Struck wins SA Classic
Love Struck wins SA Classic

Watch Love Struck winning the SA Classic (Grade 1)

(Photo : JC Photos - Footage : Tellytrack)

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mick goss
mick goss

Mick Goss

Summerhill CEOEvery few decades, you find yourself in the midst of a golden collection, where horses actually live up to their billing. The noun becomes more than a label; it carries the whiff of an epic. Remembering that we’d just come off a slew of celebrities, Igugu, Imbongi, Pierre Jourdan, Hear The Drums, Paris Perfect, Fisani, champions, classic aces and record-breakers to a man (and a woman), it might’ve been too much to believe that lurking among our sales candidates of 2011, was a repeat performance. Classic hero, Love Struck; Majorca Stakes (Gr.1) queen, Blueridge Mountain; runaway Oaks star, Dylan’s Promise, Daily News and S.A. Derby runners-up, No Worries and Gothic, and Classic perfomers, Corredor, Gitiano and Patriotic Rebel.

But as our good friend Bill Shakespeare liked to remind us, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. On such a full sea are we now afloat, and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.” At R2million, Blueridge Mountain bestowed on Summerhill Sales it’s third top-priced filly at the “Nationals” in four years, while as the first sophomore colt home in the Vodacom Durban July, No Worries and Guineas-placed Corredor, instantly gratified the inaugural Emperors Palace “Summer” Ready To Run Sale on the farm. Proof, if ever it was needed, that when it comes to buying racehorses, a good eye can be just as good as a big cheque book.

A prominent racehorse trainer, disgruntled by a failure to heed his instructions, recently accused jockeys of being illiterate. One thing you cannot say about jockeys though, is that they’re innumerate: put two million bucks on the line, as Phumelela did in the South African Classic (Gr.1), and pandemonium reigns. There were all kinds of conjecture in the popular press that the race was a likely formality for the Gauteng Guineas ace, Tellina, on his march to the Triple Crown. At least one eminent scribe was puzzled at Love Struck’s participation, on the basis of reigning champion Anton Marcus’ reservations about his stamina. On paper at least, he may have had a point. His father has largely been an influence for speed, and neither his mother nor grandmother won beyond a mile. Yet somehow, that Saturday, Love Struck came grinding up the Turffontein straight like the genuine brawler he is, raising a few fingers at the pedigree theorists and how far a runner is supposed to stay. This is horseracing, not quantum mechanics.

In the Classic, we saw the raw soul of racing; two horses running for their lives, crashing through one pain barrier after another, wild and brave. The Classic field swings for home, fanning ever wider, centrifugal force in its crudest form, a blur of colour and bussles. Horses weaving and wobbling. Jockeys slashing and urging. Everywhere you look, acts of panic and derring-do. As near as a race can be to pandemonium. From being right out of it at 20-1, Love Struck is suddenly right in it.

Amid the chaos on the turn, Sean Cormack the veteran, sends the “Lover” for home. With that one decision, he wins the Classic. Trainers are forever telling jockeys to use their judgment, as though all hoops are born with a triple cross of Solomon. Jockeys then go out and use something that, whatever it is, isn’t judgment. Love Struck won the Classic because Cormack’s intuition was flawless. Joey Soma timed the horse’s preparation to within a few hours. Cormack timed the horse’s run to within a few seconds. A punter who’d yelled unprintable abuse at Cormack in the race before, now hailed him “a champion”. A week may be a long time in politics, but thirty-five minutes is an eternity on a racecourse.

The return to scale made the running of the bulls in Pamplona, seem dull. The veteran journeyman was ecstatic, the owner apoplectic. Alesh Naidoo deserves everything he gets from the game. The horse’s participation in the Classic was an act of faith. His trainer had doubts on the back of Anton Marcus’ reservations: who wouldn’t? Yet the owner insisted. Now he was clambering and clattering his way down the grandstand, his eyes a mystery behind his sunglasses, as he slipped into the winner’s circle, and called out to the jockey. The colt came across to him. The owner rubbed him and kissed him on the forehead. Emotions are alright, it seems, as long as it’s just hay fever.

And then there was the agony. The objection hooter sounded, and suddenly the owner slipped into that country all racing fans know, the twilight zone between hell and hope. On a racecourse, the line between fame and pain is ever so fine. Somewhere in the race, the Triple Crown pretender and the horse with so many doubts over his head, had come together at a critical time. It was now in the lap of the gods. Depending on where you sit on the issue, it’s good to know there is a God; it helps to have the Almighty in the saddle. The objection was overruled.

Spare a thought now, for Love Struck’s trainer. Paul Lafferty is a tease; these days, the one-time professional football star is more a comedian than a celebrity, a master of dry wit and dubious tales. Big on desire, but short on good horses. A contender and a crock living in the same body. On this, his biggest of days, he was in Dubai doing duty at the World Cup. Those nearby will tell you, too: emotions are alright, but better in private. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

“Classic” Saturday was a big day at Turffontein, not quite as big as the World Cup in Dubai, but a big day nonetheless. The fans turned up in their droves to see Tellina and Cherry On The Top win their respective classics. In the end, Cherry On The Top won the Fillies Classic, but Love Struck won the hearts.

summerhill stud, south africa
summerhill stud, south africa

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