The season started in January with South Africa’s oldest race, the Group 1WFA L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate run over 1600m at Kenilworth. Oncourse, where marquees and patrons alike were all decked out in the obligatory blue and white, two four-year-olds reigned supreme, giving racegoers a faint inkling of what the season still had in store.
Legal Eagle (SAF) (Greys Inn) surprised all but his trainer Sean Tarry, when beating 2014 Horse of the Year Legislate to the line in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate, by a comfortable 1.5 lengths under Anton Marcus. Not to be out done, Smart Call (SAF), a filly by Ideal World, downed multiple Group 1 winner Inara by a solid 2 lengths in the Group 1 WFA Maine Chance Farms Paddock Stakes also over 1600m.
It was the Alec Laird trained Smart Call’s first appearance at Kenilworth, but it was certainly not her last, with Laird announcing shortly afterwards that the filly would take on the colts in the Group 1 J & B Met over 2000m, three weeks later.
In between it was the turn of the three-year-old colts in the Group 1 Investec Cape Derby and the fillies and mares in the Group 1 WFA Majorca Stakes on the elegant Investec Day of Dreams.
Popular owner Fred Crabbia flew in from Singapore for the day and his Dynasty colt, It’s My Turn (SAF), made sure that there was plenty to celebrate, when comfortably winning the Cape Derby by 2 lengths. With no Smart Call to bother her, Inara easily defended her Majorca crown under a superb ride by Grant van Niekerk, taking her Group 1 winning tally to three.
Then it was on to the big one, Cape racing’s premier race, the Group 1 J & B Met over the 2000m of the Kenilworth summer course.
Legal Eagle, under Anton Marcus, justifiably started as favourite and for a moment it looked as if he could capture the elusive Queen’s Plate Met double. However, it was only for a moment, as Smart Call, under late replacement, J P van der Merwe, strolled through the field. Van der Merwe allowed himself a brief backwards glance at the struggling field, followed by a delighted grin, before he steered Smart Call into the lead and into history, as she powered clear to win by 3.5 lengths.
Van der Merwe started celebrating long before the line and rightly so, as the filly garnered a 120 merit rating from the handicappers, making her the highest rated active horse in South Africa. And Laird was far from done, announcing that Smart Call would now go into quarantine, as she was on her way to the 2016 Breeders’ Cup after a ‘win and you’re in’ invitation, earned in the Paddock Stakes.
The Cape Summer Season was filled with great racing and dominated by two extraordinary horses, yet what was also interesting was the large number of UK based owners with winners during the season.
The trend of buying affordable horses in South Africa and then racing them there, rather than exporting them, has become very popular with UK owners wanting to escape the British winters. The results of the recent Cape Premier Yearling Sale displayed the trend where a number of buyers from the UK, as well as France, Germany, Hong Kong and the USA competed for the cream of the crop.
South Africa may still face a huge uphill climb when it comes to achieving reasonable quarantine periods for its horses, but for now it seems as if overseas owners have decided to rather coming racing in the Cape Summer than forgo the chance of owning quality South African bloodstock.