Horse Chestnut: A Hero Has Fallen
Horse Chestnut – South African Horse of the Year, Triple Crown Champion, and horse racing icon – died last night in his stall at the age of 19.
The autopsy revealed the cause of death to be a heart failure. His passing will be mourned by racing followers around the country. Superlatives and hyperbole are often used too loosely in describing a racehorse's achievements. However, in the case of Horse Chestnut there is no risk of this, for his race record speaks for itself. He is considered by many to be the best racehorse the country has ever seen and is one of the few horses to have transcended the sport into the public consciousness.
Horse Chestnut was born in 1995 out of the Col Pickering mare London Wall from the first crop of Fort Wood on Harry and Bridgit Oppenheimer's Mauritzfontein Stud. Racing in the Oppenheimer's colours and trained by Mike de Kock, Horse Chestnut won nine of ten starts, his only loss coming at the hands of multiple G1 winner Clifton King over 1000m on his second start. For the remaining eight starts of Horse Chestnut's career he would prove unstoppable. He would become South Africa's first Triple Crown winner in capturing the G1 Cape Guineas by 7 lengths, the G1 SA Classic by 3.5 lengths, and the G1 SA Derby by 10 lengths. In between this campaign he also became the first three-year-old in 54 years to win the prestigious G1 J&B Met, coming home alone 8 lengths clear of Horse of the Year Classic Flag in second place. These accomplishments earned Horse Chestnut the titles of Equus Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old Colt in 1999.
The SA Derby was his last start in South Africa before embarking on an international campaign in the USA before ultimately being aimed at the G1 Dubai World Cup. After an arduous quarantine period Horse Chestnut won his first start abroad in the G3 Broward Handicap by 5.5 lengths. However, a few weeks later in preparation for the G1 Donn Handicap his career was curtailed by injury and he was retired to Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, USA. He was subsequently purchased by the Horse Chestnut Syndicate and brought back to South Africa in 2009 to stand at Drakenstein Stud.
At stud in the USA, Horse Chestnut produced G1 winner Lucifer's Stone and G2 winner Spanish Chestnut while in South Africa his progeny have included G3 winners Chestnut's Rocket and Banbury, as well as G1 Daily News 2000 runner-up Rake's Chestnut from relatively small crops. Horse Chestnut ended the 2014 season as the Leading 2nd Crop Sire in South Africa by AEPR. Horse Chestnut will likely also leave a legacy on the breed as a broodmare sire having already produced talented filly Smart Call in South Africa and likely 2015 G1 Kentucky Derby contender Ocho Ocho Ocho.
Drakenstein Stud owner Gaynor Rupert said, "It was a privilege to stand such a horse of tremendous importance in South African racing history. He was a gentleman and loved by all the staff at Drakenstein. As one of the first two stallions of the farm it was something special for all at the stud to watch the friendship and bond develop between him and Trippi over the years. He will be sorely missed."
Stud manager Ross Fuller added, "He was always a lovely horse to work with and one who it is an honour to have been associated."