Early Racing in South Africa

The sport of horse racing has a long history in South Africa, with official racing having been recorded as far back as 1795 - when British rule first came to the Cape. Early horses produced in South Africa, and known as Capers, fared well when exported to India, where they were used both for racing and for army remounts.

Capers continued to play a role in early South African races up to 1860 or so, when they were eventually replaced by Thoroughbreds, and, in some cases, by the Australian Waler. A number of South African bred horses also found their way to Australasia - where they played a role in forming some of the early Colonial families.

Cape racing received a considerable boost with the arrival of Lord Charles Somerset in 1814. Somerset, for whom a prominent Cape juvenile feature is named, organized a government stud and imported a large number of Thoroughbred stallions and mares to provide a much needed boost for local bloodstock.

Vodacom Durban July 2017 Finish / Gold Circle (p)

Just 11 years after the arrival of Lord Somerset, South Africa found itself home to at least 10 colony venues which hosted racing, and Port Elizabeth (which formed its own turf club in 1857) became a hub of local racing. The Jockey Club itself has its beginning in Port Elizabeth - where it was formed in 1882.

While the Eastern Cape no longer hosts any of the country’s Grade One contests, racing remains competitive there with its major feature races being a pair of Grade Three features – the Algoa Cup and East Cape Derby.

The first racing reported to have taken place in Natal (today known as KwaZulu-Natal (KZN)) took place in the 1840s. KwaZulu-Natal is home to South Africa’s most famous horse-race, the G1 July Handicap, which was first run in 1897.
Originally run over 1600m, today the July is contested over 2200m, and its honour roll includes some of the country’s greatest champions. Currently sponsored by Vodacom, the July is one of the country’s truly great race days and annually attracts huge crowds of enthusiastic race-goers.

While the July remains the highpoint of the Durban racing season (which takes place in winter every year), the Cape hosts a number of prominent races during the summer, including the ever elegant G1 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate and the G1 Cape Met, which had it's first run in 1883.

The Cape also hosts two of the country’s premier races for three-year-olds, in the form of the G1 Cape Guineas and G1 Investec Cape Derby, as well as two of South Africa’s most important Weight for Age races for fillies and mares (G1 Majorca Stakes and G1 Paddock Stakes).

2021 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate winner Jet Dark (Trippi x Night Jet by Jet Master)

Triple Tiara winner in 2020, Summer Pudding, (Silvano x Cherry on the Cake)

Gauteng has a rich autumn and spring season of racing features, highlighted by the G1 President’s Champions Challenge and G1 Summer Cup. It also hosts a Triple Crown for three-year-olds featuring the G2 Gauteng Guineas, G1 SA Classic and G1 SA Derby, while 3yo fillies are catered for with a Triple Tiara, made up of the G2 Gauteng Fillies Guineas, G1 SA Fillies Classic and G2 SA Oaks.

In recent years, the Triple Crown has been won by all of Horse Chestnut (Fort Wood), Louis the King (Black Minnaloushe), and Abashiri (Go Deputy), while Igugu (Galileo), Cherry On The Top (Tiger Ridge) and Summer Pudding (Silvano) have won the Triple Tiara.

Horse racing plays a vital role in the South African economy. Not only does the sport provide thousands of jobs, for people both directly and indirectly involved in racing, but it also contributes to South Africa’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
Stud farms play a huge role in providing employment, at a number of different levels, especially in rural areas - and also play a major role in uplifting many poor regions of the country.

Among the programmes in place to contribute to economic and social upliftment in rural areas are the various grooms’ education courses, sponsored by the Cape Breeders’ Club and Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, while The Thoroughbred Racing Trust also makes a large contribution to a number of programmes for racing yard grooms.

In addition to the skills training offered to stud grooms, the TBA has in place co-operative schemes for graduates of the training programmes, provided they have reached a certain level and passed the required training modules.

SA Classic winner 2020; Got the Greenlight (Gimmethegreenlight x Command Chi)

Half-brothers Golden Ducat (Philanthropist x Halfway to Heaven) and Rainbow Bridge (Ideal World xHalfway to Heaven) battle out the finish of the Champions Cup at Greyville.

The co-ops are fully supported by the broader industry, with funding assistance from the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), and focused on providing our staff sustainable business skills and opportunities for greater equity in the industry.

The biggest success of the Thoroughbred Industry Transformation Programme was achieved by Riverside Thoroughbred Co-operative in 2011. Beating all expectation the Riverside Grooms Co-operative sold a Silvano colt, Lot 304, for R1.4M at the National Yearling Sales.

One of only 16 lots to make 7 figures at this flagship sale. The colt was none other than the multiple graded stakes winner, and graded stakes producing stallion, Vercingetorix.

South African Jockey Academy

The only institution in South Africa which offers an academic education to aspiring jockeys, the SAJA (South African Jockey Academy) was established in 1958. Since then, the academy has produced a legion of champion apprentices and jockeys, with its honour roll including the likes of Michael Roberts, John Gorton, Jeff Lloyd, Pierre Strydom, Andrew Fortune, Anton Marcus and champion jockey S’Manga Khumalo.

S’Manga, who also became the first black jockey to win the Vodacom Durban July in 2014, and Muzi Yeni have paved the way for aspiring black riders, having both won a number of Grade 1 races in the past few years. Both jockeys were recruited and admitted to the academy due to their small stature, and from humble beginnings and no riding experience they continue to excel at the highest levels.

Based at the Summerveld Training Centre in KwaZulu-Natal, the SAJA not only offers young riders the chance to obtain practical riding experience but also provides them a customised educational curriculum for grades 10-12. The SAJA also offers students the chance to obtain the National Certificate in Equine Studies and EQASA Modules.

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S’Manga Khumalo wins the Durban July aboard Heavy Metal / Liesl King (p)

SA exports make their mark overseas

Despite current restrictive export protocols, South African bred Thoroughbreds have made a considerable impression on the international stage. From the likes of Camp Fire II (who won the King’s Stand Stakes in 1907) to Colorado King (Grand Rapids) and Hawaii (Utrillo) who won major races in the US in the 1960s, South African breds have a storied history of enjoying a good level of success overseas.
Hawaii, in fact, would go on to make history when he became the first South African bred stallion to sire an Epsom Derby winner, with his son Henbit capturing the Blue Riband in 1980. (Hawaii was also named Champion Turf Horse in the USA in 1969).

The influence of Hawaii continues to be felt in top class pedigrees around the world. Not only is he broodmare sire of top class stallion Hennessy (whose grandson Scat Daddy made a huge name for himself prior to an untimely death), but the name of Hawaii can be found in the pedigrees of such great US champions as Ghostzapper and Wise Dan – as well as 1992 G1 Kentucky Derby hero Lil E Tee, and more recently Triple Crown Winner Justify.

Hawaii is also found in the pedigree of former top class 2yo and stallion City Zip. City Zip’s offspring include four individual Breeders’ Cup winners to date – including Canadian Horse of the Year - Catch A Glimpse and 2016 BC winner Finest City.
Another former South African champion to retire to stud overseas, was 1983 Horse of the Year Wolf Power (Flirting Around). The charismatic grey retired to Gainesway Farm, where he sired 38 stakes winners including G1 winning filly Freedom Cry (who won the G1 Santa Monica Handicap).

Wolf Power, who set or broke no fewer than eight track records, is also broodmare sire of dual US Horse of the Year Wise Dan (Wiseman’s Ferry) - whose 23 victories included the 2012 and 2013 G1 Breeders’ Cup Mile and nine other Grade 1 races. He is also broodmare sire of dual G1 Santa Anita Handicap winner Milwaukee Brew (Wild Again). The latter has also enjoyed success at stud – and has three Canadian classic winners to his name, as well as G1 Madison Stakes heroine Dr Zic.
In recent times, South African bred horses to star on the international stage included G1 Champions Mile winner Variety Club (Var), G1 Hong Kong Sprint hero JJ The Jet Plane (Jet Master), Crimson Palace, winner of the G1 Beverly D Stakes, G1 Jebel Hatta star Vercingetorix (Silvano), Jay Peg (G1 Dubai Duty Free, G1 Singapore Cup) and G1 Al Quoz Sprint victor Shea Shea (National Emblem).

Variety Club, who was twice named Horse of the Year in South Africa, was the world’s joint third top rated thoroughbred (by Longines) in 2014, when his 127 rating saw the son of Var rated just 3lbs below the top rated galloper Just A Way (Heart’s Cry).

South Africa also produced the remarkable full sisters Irridescence and Perfect Promise (Caesour – Meretricious, by Dancing Champ), who won the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup in Hong Kong and G1 CF Orr Stakes in Australia respectively.
Thoroughbreds, however, have not been the only South African racing products to have been exported successfully. South Africa has been represented by a number of jockeys and trainers who have excelled internationally, with perhaps the prime example being Michael Roberts. Eleven times champion jockey in South Africa, Michael (known to his fans as “Muis”) made history when becoming Britain’s champion jockey in 1992.
John Gorton was another South African rider to make his mark in Britain, and won the Epsom Oaks aboard Sleeping Partner (Parthia) in 1969. 13 time Hong Kong champion jockey Dougie Whyte is yet another SA bred and born jockey to make a big impression overseas, while Basil Marcus won that premiership seven times during his stay in Hong Kong.

While he remains based in South Africa, former champion trainer Mike de Kock has done more than most to show the rest of the world the superior calibre of the SA racing industry.

A pioneer in Dubai, Mike de Kock has saddled major Grade One winners around the world, with his top international victories including the G1 Dubai Duty Free (twice), G1 Dubai Sheema Classic, G1 QE II Cup (twice), G1 Jebel Hatta (four times) and the G1 Champions Mile. He also has a tremendous strike rate in the G2 UAE Derby, having won that race no fewer than six times.

Christophe Soumillon aboard Shea Shea - trained by Mike de Kock / Reuters (p)

South African bred Thoroughbreds continue to represent tremendous value on the world stage. One truly great example of this was the remarkable sprint champion JJ The Jet Plane (Jet Master), who cost a mere R70 000 (today’s equivalent of just over $5 000) at the 2006 National Two Year Old Sale.

A multiple champion sprinter in his native country, JJ The Jet Plane would reach new heights when campaigned overseas, with his wins including a triumph over world class sprinters Rocket Man (Viscount) and Sacred Kingdom (Encosta De Lago) in the 2010 G1 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint in Hong Kong. He was retired back to South Africa having banked more than R22 000 000 in prize money - and was the world’s second top rated sprinter (according to the Longines rankings) of 2010.

Home ground heroes

Not all of South Africa’s great equine stars have furthered their careers overseas. One of the greatest racehorses ever bred in South Africa was Sea Cottage (Fairthorn) – who won 20 of 24 outings, despite being shot during his 3yo campaign. A huge crowd favourite, Sea Cottage was unbeaten in five outings at two, and trained on to win seven of nine starts at three (including the Cape Derby). His fourth place finish in the 1966 July came just three weeks after being shot by a hitman’s bullet. In what has become a South African legend, a bookmaker who stood to lose a pile if Sea Cottage won the July, made a deal with a club owner who owed him money to have the horse stopped. The gunman waited for trainer, Syd Laird’s string to walk down to the beach in Durban, where they trained, and fired a single shot into Sea Cottage’s right upper hind leg.

Although the bullet was never removed, he recovered well enough to run and place in the July that year. Thereafter Sea Cottage went on to win eight of his final ten outings, including the thrilling dead-heat in the Durban July Handicap the next year. (He was conceding 27lbs to fellow dead-heater Jollify on that occasion).

Like Sea Cottage, Politician (Oligarchy) was also conditioned by former champion trainer Syd Laird. The chestnut, whose dam was a full sister to English classic winner Ragusa (Ribot), was named South African Horse of the Year three years running, and his 18 victories included the Rothman’s July Handicap – and two runnings of both the J&B Met and Queen’s Plate.

While neither Sea Cottage nor Politician achieved greatness at stud, one South African bred who achieved greatness both on the track and at stud was Dynasty (Fort Wood). A direct descendant of the great mare Lavendula (Pharos), Dynasty did not enjoy the longest of careers (he won nine of just 12 outings) but could not have been more impressive in victory when he landed the 2003 G1 Vodacom Durban July, overcoming a wide trip to beat subsequent Horse of the Year Yard-Arm (Western Winter) by three parts of a length.

Consistently successful once retired to stud (his progeny have fetched up to R5.2 million in the sales ring), Dynasty produced a string of champions to his credit -including stallions Futura, Irish Flame and Legislate – all of whom were named Horse of the Year. His sons Jackson, Act of War and Horizon are also active sires.
In contrast, the much loved Pocket Power (Jet Master) was a gelding and enjoyed a long and hugely successful career. A triple Horse of the Year, “Pocket”’s 20 career wins included a remarkable four-timer in the G1 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate, as well as three wins in the G1 J&B Met, and a dead heat in the 2008 G1 Vodacom Durban July.

Having had a few years showing and jumping with his former work-rider Belinda Haytread, he is now happily retired at Hemel n’ Aarde Stud in Hermanus.

South Africa continues to breed international level contenders despite being a small country and having onerous export restrictions which make it difficult to travel with ease. However, the successes of South African horses, jockeys and trainers abroad is evidence of the depth of ability within the South African racing industry.

Legislate wins the Green Point Stakes / Liesl King (p)

The willingness of South African breeders and buyers to invest in international bloodstock to keep refreshing our bloodlines helps to boost the local Thoroughbred stock. This continual investment and ongoing innovation is what motivates South Africa’s horse racing industry.