The Justin Snaith-trained Jet Dark became the first South African-based thoroughbred for at least 50 years to win two open weight for age (wfa) Grade 1 events over classic distances as a three-year-old when winning the HKJC World Pools Champions Cup over 1800m at Hollywoodbets Greyville on Saturday.
Jet Dark’s other open Grade 1 win was in the country’s most prestigious mile event, the wfa L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate.
He has thus outdone the great Variety Club, who finished a narrow second in the Queen’s Plate as a three-year-old before winning the wfa Grade 1 Rising Sun Gold Challenge later that season.
In Full Flight in 1972 and Yataghan in 1973 both won the Queen’s Plate and Durban July as three-year-olds but the latter is a handicap. In Full Flight won six Grade 1s as a three-year-old but two were three-year-old classic events, one was a sprint (Newbury Stakes 1200m), another was an extended sprint (wfa Woolavington Cup 1400m) and there was the Queen’s Plate and the July. However, he did also win the Grade 1 wfa Champions Stakes over 2000m in the Durban Winter of 1972, but this took place on August 5 when he was officially a four-year-old. Some historians would include that as a three-year-old win and he would then be considered the last to have scored two open wfa Grade 1s over classic distances as a sophomore and might be the only other one in history to have done it.
A number of sprinters have won two wfa Grade 1s as three-year-olds and this century they include J J The Jet Plane (who also won a Grade 1 handicap sprint with topweight), National Colour, Mythical Flight and Alboran Sea.
Sea Cottage won five Grade 1 wins as a three-year-old in 1966 but only the Queen’s Plate was a wfa over a classic distance. He also won the equivalent of the Champions Cup that season but it was a handicap back then, the Clairwood Winter Handicap, and retrospectively historians rated that race a Grade 2.
It is fitting Jet Dark is owned by two KZN men, Nick Jonsson and Tommy Crowe, both of whom are fine horsemen in their own right having reached a high class level in the sport of polo.
Furthermore, Jonsson hails from a family steeped in KZN horseracing history and he and Crowe have poured a lot of money into the sport.
Snaith was crowned SA champion trainer for the third time on Saturday, but nevertheless the Champions Cup win ended a frustrating period for him and was in fact his only Grade 1 winner of this SA Champions Season, a three month festival in which he reached a high of five Grade 1 wins in 2019.
Snaith said, “In the Queen’s Plate Jet Dark blew away one of the best fields ever put together in this country. Sadly, he sustained a slight injury in the race and had to be rested. He came very late into the KZN season and put in a very impressive gallop against Belgarion on Guineas day. I applied for a second gallop but was told Scottsville would be my only option so I took it but sadly he pulled up a bit jarred so we had to back off him. So I thought he would need it slightly in the Hollywoodbets Gold Challenge and I was just hoping for a positive run.”
Jet Dark finished a disappointing 3,65 length sixth in that race but Snaith said, “He pulled up beautifully and we knew the Champions Cup was now a reality. I was slightly concerned about him settling over 1800m and we needed a pace to suit both of our runners, so that is when we decided Crown Towers would be used.”
Snaith had a lot of respect for the rest of the field and said, “Catch Twentytwo particularly had impeccable form and has always been turned out beautifully by Paul Peter.”
Stable jockey Richard Fourie had a tough choice of ride but eventually went with his heart and opted for Do It Again.
Jonsson and Crowe were excited to learn Snaith had booked twice SA Champion jockey S’Manga Khumalo for Jet Dark.
Snaith said, “S’Manga has always been a fantastic team player and every time we have had a disappointment he has been so positive and been willing to be involved in the next fight. He has also won numerous races for Nick, including on the like of Ultimate Dollar and Miyabi Gold.”
Jet Dark jumped slowly from draw six and then began pulling for his head after Khumalo had managed to drop him in near the back on the rail.
However, Crown Towers began stretching them out after finding the lead and both Jet Dark and Do It Again, who was in last place, were then able to stride more freely.
Khumalo switched Jet Dark off the rail turning for home and a dream gap opened. He produced a powerfully resolute finish, consigning Catch Twentytwo to a third consecutive SA Champions Season runner up spot, beaten this time by 0,40 lengths.
Do It Again, whom Snaith describes as the most graceful equine athlete he has ever seen in SA, ran on superbly and finished a further 0,40 lengths back in third.
Crown Towers only finished seventh but Snaith said the important role he played had earned him a grass paddock for the rest of his life.
Jonsson, after looking through the shortlist of horses chosen by himself and the Snaiths at the 2019 BSA National Yearling Sales, selected Jet Dark as one of the lots to bid for and they were surprised to secure him for just R200,000. Nick then invited his good friend from University days, Tommy Crowe, in as a partner.
Snaith decribed the Drakenstein Stud-bred Jet Dark as having being extremely athletic as a yearling.
The fact he was out of a Jet Master mare and had a lot of Jet Master in him was one of the selling points for NIck and being by the illustrious stallion Trippi made it a potentially explosive mix.
Nick’s Uncle Hugh Jonsson in fact bred Jet Master, who is comfortably the most successful SA-bred thoroughbred stallion in history.
Snaith said a stud career would definitely be beckoning for Jet Dark, but first the connections are excited about the defence of his Queen’s Plate title as well as a possible tilt at the Met.
Jet Dark not only has strikingly stallion-like looks but Snaith mentioned him alongside Gimmethegreenlight and Do It Again as the most impressive three-year-old he had trained.
Gimmethegreenlight, who became the first three-year-old in 39 years to win the Queen’s Plate when downing his contemporary Variety Club in 2012, has fittingly just been crowned National Champion Sire.