“THE hallmark of a great racehorse is that he makes good horses look ordinary,” wrote Charles Faull in an extract to Horse Chestnut: The Story of A Legend, back in 2000.
Mike de Kock is known to get hot under the collar when even his most accomplished runners since Horse Chestnut are mentioned in the same breath as his greatest ever champion, but he is likely to forgive such comparisons in the wake of three-year-old Ertijaal’s astonishing win in the Gr1 Cape Derby over 2000m at Kenilworth on J&B Met Day, Saturday. ( Race replay here.)
In fact Mike’s comment in a short message to his website on Saturday evening consisted of only four words: “This is a machine!”
In full cry: Ertijaal and Gavin Lerena on their way to a stunning victory.
Ertijaal (AUS, by Hard Spun) won this supreme and standard-setting classic contest by 4.75-lengths, a winning margin greater than the sum of those of the last five Cape Derbies – the winners of which included Legislate, Cape Town Noir and Jackson, all considered in the authoritative Sporting Post’s preview of Saturday’s race to be “serious stallion prospects”.
Ertijaal’s time of 123.82s was more than 1.5s faster than the time clocked by the impressive four-year-old Futura in the Gr1 J&B Met roughly an hour later and interestingly also faster than the 123.90 set by Horse Chestnut when he won the Met in 1999. Ertijaal beat into second Act Of War, a six-time winning Gr1 star in his own right. (Scroll to bottom for more historic stats).
Racing records aside, most notable post-race was the sheer delight shown by Angus Gold, who manages the racing affairs of Ertijaal’s owner Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum and was on course to lead in an historic first Cape Derby winner in the Sheikh’s world-famous silks.
Gold commented: “It’s a huge thrill to be here and win a Derby for Sheikh Hamdan, especially with a horse like Ertijaal. He was very immature as a young horse, he had colic and had to be opened up, it was touch and go. Here we are 18 months later and it’s fantastic, quite an effort. Huge credit must go to Mike de Kock’s team, they have done brilliantly!”
A plan comes together: Lerena salutes the crowd.
(Photos by Liesl King).
Gold’s excitement went a long way to show the regard they have for South African racing – they are well aware of the all-round quality of our industry and its international value. While they race here for something equivalent to Monopoly’s “Play Money”, their global vision is the most important aspect and one is reminded of Mike de Kock’s assessment that “the floodgates will open with massive international bloodstock investments once the severely limiting export protocols are lifted.”
Sadly South Africa has made no significant progress in getting the protocols resolved. The Comedy of Nothing continues under the strains of officialdom and red tape.
On to more Reality TV and the normally very composed Mathew de Kock: Experiencing a wondrous highlight in his short career, Mat had to swallow tears a few times. He must have elicited much of the same from his friends and supporters around the country as he walked up to receive the winning trainers’ trophy. He praised his team for their efforts in producing a second Gr1 winner in the Cape in the space of a week and thanked trainer Brett Crawford for the use of his facilities at Phillipi, quite a revelation in recent weeks.
“Ertijaal is a special horse. There is the Classic and the Derby in Johannesburg next but we’ll take things as they come,” said Mathew.
Jockey Gavin Lerena, who has become a consummate professional, said after his first Cape Derby win: “I have to thank Mathew and his team and Mr de Kock for their faith in me with this very special horse. Well done to Sheikh Hamdan and Mr Gold.”
Lerena has a very supportive family behind him including his wily “old man”, Tex – seen in the winner’s enclosure with his son on Saturday. The way Gavin conducts himself on and off the track is commendable and an example to others.
Mathew and Gavin posted a second winner when the young stayer Kingston Mines, surprisingly easy to support at 8-1, won the Gr2 J&B Urban Honey Stayers Handicap over 2800m to end the day another superb high.
Kingston Mines is by high-riding stallion Archipenko, who stands at Kirsten Rausing’s Lanwades Stud near Newmarket, UK. He has now sired a Gr1 winner in the UK, a Gr2 winner in South Africa and his strike rate with his first crop of now three-year-olds is an impressive 6 winners and 2 placed horses from 10 runners.
Notable Cape Derby Statistics, 2003-2014
(In order of year, winner, time and winning distance, * indicates subsequent Durban July winner, **indicates International winner)
*2003 Dynasty 120.05 3.75 (Race record time)
2004 Race abandoned
2005 Rabiya 123,72 1.75 (Beat **Oracle West)
2006 Floatyourboat 125.12 0.05 (Beat *EyeofTheTiger)
**2007 Jay Peg 123.25 0.05 (Beat **Wonder Lawn)
2008 Russian Sage 125.27 0.25 (Beat ***Bold Silvano, **Irish Flame)
*2009 Big City Life 125.27 1.00
2010 Bravura 124.06 0.25
2011 Top Seller 124.99 0.10
2012 Jackson 123.54 2.00 (Beat **Variety Club, **Mushreq)
2013 Cape Town Noir 125.90 0.25 (Beat **Sanshaawes)
*2014 Legislate 124.43 1.25
2015 Ertijaal 123.82 4.75