STAR South African sprinter, Shea Shea (National Emblem), went down the by the narrowest of margins preventing him from becoming the first South African horse to win at Royal Ascot, but South Africans can be very proud of him, writes JAMES TROTTER in International News.
South Africa’s highest rated horse and, after his record breaking performances in Dubai, the highest rated sprinter in the world, Shea Shea duly started as the firm favourite for the King’s Stand Stakes (Grade 1) – the 1000m speed challenge on the first day of Royal Ascot.
As it turned out it was through victim of circumstance and a perfect race for another star sprinter, Sole Power (Kyllachy) that would prevent the South African owned, trained and bred horse from making history.
Sole Power has been one of the leading 1000m sprinters in Europe and Dubai over the last three years. He shot into fame in 2010 when he shockingly got up at 100 to 1 to defeat champion Australian sprinter Starspangledbanner (Choisir) in the Nunthorpe Stakes (G1).
At the time Starspangledbanner had come across with a big reputation from Australia and had duly swept aside every European sprinter he had faced in claiming both of Britain’s most prestigious Grade 1 sprints. Though this victory was a surprise at the time, Sole Power has backed up this win with a number of big performances in Grade 1 sprints since – the most eye catching of which may have been his loss by a head in the 2011 Prix de l’Abbaye (Grade 1) when a clearer passage would surely have seen him in the winner’s box.
He is a horse however, that needs things to go perfectly right for him in order to claim the scalps of sprinters the class of Shea Shea and Starspangledbanner. Ideally sitting off a fast early pace, he does his best work just as those with the quicker natural speed begin to tire: with a short, but electric, acceleration, sitting in the slipstream of the leaders and pouncing on them in the final furlong. As it happened, the King’s Stand of 2013 panned out perfectly for him, and not for Shea Shea.
Shea Shea sat about mid-field and Sole Power near the back. Coming to the final two furlongs the leaders splintered into two groups on the inside and outside of the track. Shea Shea was set loose and accelerated passed the other Grade 1 horses in front of him as you would expect the world’s highest rated sprinter to do so.
With a furlong to go it looked as though it was race over, with Shea Shea extending two lengths clear of his nearest rival. However, on the other side of the track another race was unfolding. As bad luck would have it, the group of horses on the opposite side of the track from Shea Shea were travelling better than those on Shea Shea’s side.
And so although Shea Shea had easily put away those he was racing against, the other group was providing the perfect lead out for the late flying Sole Power. The hill to the finish at Ascot favours late closers at the best of times, and with nothing to chase Shea Shea began to gear down, unaware of any looming challenge. Johnny Murtagh aboard Sole Power, timing his run perfectly, said himself that he didn’t see Shea Shea on the other side of the track, and only hoped he had done enough to win.
Rated 6lbs superior to Sole Power by Racing Post before the race and having beaten Sole Power convincingly on the only other two times they have met, it shows how a little luck in running, and perhaps experience in the conditions, can make a difference in a race. No matter: Shea Shea, the Mike de Kock team, Christophe Soumillon, and owners Messrs Berzak and Joffe, you did South Africa proud.
Shea Shea will not run again at Royal Ascot this year, though considered, but instead will wait for Europe’s biggest sprint prize, the Darley July Cup £500,000 (Grade 1) which will take place on 13th July at Newmarket. Joining him in this race will very likely be other South African stars Soft Falling Rain (National Assembly) and Kavanagh (Tiger Ridge). May it be a big day for South Africa!