For those of us who live in the misty gulf between what the smart people of the Northern Hemisphere call the “civilized world”, and those who worship their ancestors, omens still count for something. One thing about our working hours in the country, is that we occupy a space which most city folk don’t know: our day starts some hours before the rush of traffic rumbles into cities, and we get to see things others splurge fortunes on at upmarket game reserves. Friday morning greeted us with a fine haze after a good night’s soak, and as I rounded the last bend before the Hartford stables, I came across a happy sight: hunting, natural predation and habitat encroachment have rendered the little Oribi the second-most endangered of the antelope species, behind only the Roan antelope in South Africa; those that know them, know the Oribi is as beautiful as the Roan is majestic. In the middle of the road and unusually unperturbed by the sight of my oncoming vehicle, was a husband and wife pair (like the Reedbuck, they mate up for life) and a sub-adult, which was barely separable in size from his parents. Here at last was evidence of survival in challenging times.
Coupled with the rain that had come to quench our thirsty district, I took this as a sign, with the big Sansui Summer Cup beckoning on Saturday, that perhaps our ship was about to come in. Don’t get me wrong, the gods have been good thus far as we lead the Breeder’s log by a couple of million already, but if you’re not hungry in this game, you have little to get up for in the mornings. You never tire of winning; it’s always refreshing, never short of thrilling.
Then it all happened, just as the omen had promised, though possibly a week ahead of its time. Mullins Bay chalked up five winners; Admire Main rattled up a quick treble over the weekend; Brave Tin Soldier counted an impressive double, and Highly Decorated and Die Kat put smiles on the “dials” of Team Valor and Adriaan and Rika Van Vuuren. Strangely, (but since we’re talking of the “good news”, perhaps not so strange,) all but one of these winners was a graduate of our Ready To Run programme, and with the Emperors Palace Summer Ready To Run the next major objective in February, the events of the weekend were a timeous reminder that our stars have aligned.
That brings us to the Summer Cup, which ranks among the “big three” in South African racing, and is, after the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup, the most valuable prize on the Gauteng calendar. Summerhill has a rich connection with this celebrated event, so significant in the annals of our sport, that as far back as 1895, the stewards of the Johannesburg Turf Club, among them the “Randlords” Cecil John Rhodes, Sir Abe Bailey, Sir Alfred Beit, Sir Werhner Beit and Henry Nourse, postponed the notorious Jameson Raid by a week, for fear it would disrupt the running of the race. A week is a long time in both racing and politics, as we know, long enough to betray the raiders’ intentions, and condemn their plans to chaos.
The race is of no less importance to racing today as it was then, though it’s fortuitous that while we still live in interesting political times, they are not as life-threatening as they were in those adventurous days. As much as we have a distinguished connection with the histories of the Durban July and the Cape Metropolitan (the other two “big ones”), our farms have been associated with some of the Summer Cup’s biggest names too, going as far back as Decision in 1946 and Cape Heath in the year of the Coronation visit, 1947, right through to 2007’s unprecedented exacta, when the three year olds Pick Six and Emperor Napoleon pulled of the “merry dance” duet from a powerful assembly of Southern Africa’s older horses.
This weekend celebrates not only the Summer Cup (Gr.1), but the time-honoured “Dingaans” too, a mile event that counts among its former winners the likes of Col. Pickering, Jungle Rock, London News, Classic Flag, Horse Chestnut, Celtic Grove and Willow Magic.
You would expect of any of the country’s leading breeders, that they would hold a liberal hand among the entries in the major events on such a day, and you are entitled to do so. Mercifully, we’ve satisfied your expectations with fourteen competitors in six of the Group races carded. Carrying the “Number One” saddlecloth in any of the nation’s “big three”, is both an honour and a curse at the same time: it’s a handicap, you see, so No Worries has to concede weight all round, not the least of which to a former graduate of the same paddocks, Enchanted Silk, who as number 20, receives 8kgs (or 12 lengths start!) from the top weight. Together with Killua Castle, this trio emerged from our Ready To Run programme, as did the farm’s three entries in The Dingaans (Gr.2), Pioneer Spirit, Iwo Jima and The Elmo Effect. That said, the old bogey with which we appear to be saddled right now, wide draws, has raised its head once again, none of The Dingaans competitors finding a slot inside eleven.
A race in which we’ve popped a few corks in recent years, is The Merchants (Gr.2), where once again, we have the dubious distinction of shouldering top weight with Mark Dixon’s Showmetheway; he is joined on the way to post by two “up-and-comings”, Vulcan and Flyfirstclass, the latter two graduates of the Summer Ready To Run, on the farm. Not sure exactly where they’ll be when the judges get to work, but count on a “business class” performance at least.
The Magnolia Handicap (Gr.3) has also been a happy hunting ground for us, and here, we have the Diederich’s family’s six-time winning flyer, Pej, and the Ready To Run Cup heroine, Winter Star, engaged, while Flight Warning makes the cut in the marathon Racing Association Handicap (Gr.3) over 3200 metres, all of them, once again, former Ready To Run candidates. Interestingly, with the exception of the Triple Crown ace, Louis The King, who goes postward at 5-2 for the Summer Cup, nothing in any of these five line-ups is quoted at less than 5-1, which tells you just how open the day’s roll-call is likely to be. That said, the Ipi Tombi Challenge (Gr.2), (where Classic Illusion is the third of our runners shouldering the maximum burden of 60 kgs,) seems a tighter affair with Carry On Alice and Pine Princess bracketed on 5-2.
No doubt, the astute punters of the City Of Gold will separate the wheat from the chaff in the course of the week, and we’ll have a better idea of where the money is, come Friday. Better look for the Oribi again.