The Grade 3 Sea Cottage Stakes for three year olds, over 1800m, is the headline event of this weekend’s South African racing calendar.
It commemorates Sea Cottage’s only appearance on the Highveld – at the now-long-gone Gosforth Park in Germiston, in an invitation race over 1700m on 26 August 1967. It was his final race, at the age of five, before he went off to stud at his birthplace on the Birch Brothers’ farms in Dordrecht in Eastern Cape.
The Durban July had been won, along with the Champion Stakes, the Cape Derby and Guineas and the Queen’s Plate (twice) and a stack of other big races. Famously, a sniper’s bullet at Durban’s Blue Lagoon beach had failed to stop the inexorable advance of the great one.
There was nothing left for owner-trainer Syd Laird and jockey Bobby Sivewright to prove. But all the heroics had been in Cape Town and Durban and the Joburg racing crowd badly wanted to share in the glory. So, the Benoni Turf Club secured a fat sponsorship and lured trainer, horse and jockey up north for the Cutty Sark Invitation Handicap.
The opposition was not the “blind school” as has often been suggested, with top Natal sprinter-miler Magic Mirror and well-performed Transvaal handicappers Caradoc and Cuff Link accepting invitations.
More than 21,000 people packed into the limited confines of Gosforth Park, with temporary bleachers erected on the infield to accommodate some of the overwhelming demand from “Vaalies” keen to see the wonder horse – long since acknowledged as the finest to have graced the nation’s turf.
Sea Cottage started at 1-2, conceding 10kg and more to his rivals. In hindsight, he should have been a lot shorter in the betting market, given how he won – sitting in midfield until 400m out, then cruising clear and beating Magic Mirror (receiving 13kg) by 5.5 lengths, with Caradoc and Cuff Link even further back.
Saturday’s memorial has just a 4kg spread in the weights as it is a stakes event. Lining up are a bunch of promising three year olds from Highveld stables, all aiming to elevate their status and put themselves in contention for the sophomore classics to come in a few months’ time.
Topping the card with 60kg to carry is Johan Janse van Vuuren-trained Second Base, who has four wins from five starts since his debut five months ago. The son of Gimmethegreenlight is already a course-and-distance winner, so has compelling claims. Even his widest draw isn’t really a problem with just nine runners inside him.
However, sudden improvement in young horses is always a bit of a lottery at this stage of the season, so all challengers must be considered.
Al Muthana from the Mike de Kock yard won a sprint on debut, before two indifferent efforts over a bit more ground. However, he has recently been gelded, which can focus the mind, and has Piere Strydom in the irons – a rather unusual booking for the De Kock team.
Stable jockey Callan Murray partners Nartjie, also a one-time winner, but with two recent runner-up slots over course and distance.
Also, Dr Doolittle, Shah Akbar, Baywax and Gimmethegoahead cannot be left out of betting permutations by any rational punter with a few rand to spare.
It shapes up as a most interesting race, one that could quite conceivably see a new champion or two emerge.
3 Shah Akbar, 5 Gimmethegoahead, 7 Al Muthana, 1 Second Base