The 156th running of South Africa’s oldest horseracing event at Kenilworth today could well showcase a defining moment in the next chapter of the sensational story of one of the greatest horses to win the Queen’s Plate.
This prestigious race was first run in honour of Queen Victoria after she gifted a silver plate and 500 sovereigns to the South African Turf Club.
The inaugural event was staged as heats in April 1861, with the honours going to Cape Town owner Mr Chiappini’s horse, Dispatch.
From those humble beginnings, the Queen’s Plate has kept its royal ties meticulously.
After the death of Queen Victoria, it was run as the King’s Plate during the reigns of Edward VII and George VI and then reverted to being named the Queen’s Plate when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953. The monarch maintains strong ties with the event, and is represented every year by the British High Commissioner.
The laurels have been claimed by some of the greatest horses ever to grace the South African turf, including the mighty Sea Cottage, William Penn, In Full Flight, Sledgehammer, Yataghan, Politician, Wolf Power, the galloping goldmine Empress Club, international superstar London News, champion sire Jet Master, Winter Solstice and Variety Club.
But the undisputed King of The Queen’s remains four-time LQP hero, Pocket Power.
And the big poser is whether Marinaresco can step into the giant Pocket Power shoes on Saturday and rekindle the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate dream launched by Mike Bass for his owners Marsh Shirtliff and Arthur and Rina Webber a decade ago?
The pink, white and blue Shirtliff were carried to victory for four consecutive runnings of this great race from 2006 to 2010 by Jet Master’s legendary son, Pocket Power.
He had made history that year by becoming the first – and still the only – horse to win the Cape Winter Series Triple Crown. He won his first Queen’s Plate six months later under Jeff Lloyd on 30 December 2006.
Bernard Fayd’herbe rode him in his next three wins.
An intelligent horse, he never won by half the racecourse – his biggest margin being his 1,95 length ‘walloping’ of stablemate Floatyourboat – who also ran in the Shirtliff tricolour – in 2007.
On 9 January 2010, as a 7yo, Pocket Power completed his historic royal quartet beating Kapil and bettering the previous race record time by almost a quarter of a second.
In the process he had also increased his unbeaten streak at Kenilworth to fourteen victories over distances around the turn.
A few weeks later, in a quest to win an extraordinary fourth successive J&B Met, he was beaten into third in a gallant performance.
Father time catches up to us all in the end.
On Saturday, Mike’s daughter Candice, who has taken over the yard, will give Grant van Niekerk a leg up in the famous power silks on Marinaresco – and the quest for glory begins all over again.
The charistmatic Marsh Shirtliff has some top partners in the Silvano gelding – and, while he has put his money down when needed, he remains a lucky owner – and that helps!
He picked up the first of his 20 odd Gr1 successes with Tobe Or Nottobe in the 2004 Gr1 Cape Flying Championship and since then he has won J&B Mets, a Durban July and a Dubai Duty Free.
In fact, he is on record as classing Jay Peg’s win the Dubai Duty free in 2008 as a personal highlight and River Jetez’s Met win as the biggest disappointment. But that’s only because the apple of his eye, Pocket Power, could only manage third, as we have already mentioned.
While the Zandvliet Stud-bred Pocket Power’s Cape Yearling Sale purchase price was the best R190 000 Marsh ever spent on a horse, Marinaresco came at a slightly pricier R1,3 million – but if he gets past SA Horse Of The Year Legal Eagle and wins today, he would have more than doubled that outlay.
Blue for the boys, pink for the girls and white for the undecided.
Take your pick, nail your flag to the mast and see you at Kenilworth later!