First run in 1926 over 3200m for a stake of just 2000 pounds, the Gold Cup is an equine marathon that boasts a proud history and captures the public imagination on a wide scale. The race suffers no fools when it comes to fitness and stamina.
The distance and unforgiving conditions that prevail as the field go past the Greyville winning post twice, are great levellers and a look at the list of champions beaten in the Gold Cup is a long one.
The likes of Badger’s Coast, Surfing Home, River Jetez, Gondolier, Young Rake, Big Charles, Grand National, Floatyourboat and Furious are just some of the Gr1 winners and champions to have suffered the ignominy of defeat and then very often to lower rated and lightly weighted, horses.
Sun Lad won the first running and carried just 46 kgs when winning at odds of 9-1.
He raced in the silks of leading owner-breeder Sir Abe Bailey, and the Gold Cup was one of just two wins for Sun Lad during the season. He is frankly unlikely to be regarded as one of the race’s better winners.
Plenty of heroes
The first horse to win the Gold Cup on two occasions was Humidor, who was victorious in 1933 and 1935. While Candican put up one of the greatest weight carrying achievements ever seen in the race, another gallant effort came in 1930, when Glen Albyn ran second under 9 stone 10 – or 136 lbs. He was beaten just half a length, giving the winner, Artist Glow, one stone. To date, four horses have won the Gold Cup twice, but the last horse to win South Africa’s premier staying race in consecutive years was Highland Night, who won the race in 2002 and 2003.
There has only been one dead heat in the race. That was back in 1977 when Don The Stripe and Pacer shared the spoils. Since 1945, the greatest winning margin in the Gold Cup was the four and a half length winning distance achieved by Devon Air who triumphed in 1984. On the jockey front, the late Charlie Barends won the Gold Cup seven times, including back to back wins with Chez Monty in 1949 and 1950.
Felix Coetzee has equalled Barend’s achievement when he won on Bella Bianca in 1998. The Cat, as he is popularly known, surpassed that record when he registered his eighth win on In Writing last year. Coetzee is currently injured and will be watching the race on television. His wins include three years straight with Devon Air, Voodoo Charm and Occult. Of those, Devon Air won the July and the Gold Cup double, with Coetzee on board both times.
Occult also won the July and Gold Cup double, although Bartie Leisher rode him in the July and Felix in the Gold Cup. In 1988 Castle Walk was excluded from the July field rather controversially (yes, it’s nothing new!) but he went on to win the Gold Cup in a common canter. Felix Coetzee had to waste down to 49.5kg to take the ride. In 1990 Coetzee again rode the July / Gold Cup double on Illustrador.
Champion sire, Foveros, is one stallion who made his mark on the Gold Cup. He sired Gold Cup winners Aquanaut, and Festive Forever, while he is also damsire of the 2007 winner, Thundering Star. Dancing Champ is another to make a serious impact on the 3200m feature. Sire of two Gold Cup winners (Castle Walk and Space Walk), he is the maternal grandsire of the 2004/2005 winners, Major Bluff and Reveille Boy.
The Fairer Sex
Fillies and mares have enjoyed some success in the Gold Cup. The last female to capture the race was Dean Kannemeyer’s Colonial Girl, who defeated Fairfields Fancy by three parts of a length back in 2000. Other fillies and mares to win the Gold Cup include Devon Air (1984), Festive Forever (1996) and Bella Bianca (1998).
Both Festive Forever and Devon Air enjoyed success at stud, with the former producing the Gr1 winning champion Fearless (Western Winter) and the latter throwing two stakes winners. Devon Air is also the granddam of the high-class performers, She’s On Fire (Jet Master) and August Rush (Var). While many Durban July contenders compete in the Gold Cup, the race has not been won by a July winner since Ilustrador in 1990, although the 1993 Gold Cup winner Space Walk subsequently “won” the July on the disqualification of original winner, Surfing Home.
Other horses to complete the July/Gold Cup double include Occult, Devon Air and Excise.
Felix Coetzee: The Golden Years
1984 – Devon Air
1985 – Voodoo Charm
1986 – Occult
1988 – Castle Walk
1990 – Illustrador
1996 – Festive Forever
1998 – Bella Bianca
2012 – In Writing