A few months ago, some photos of 1997 Rothmans July winner Super Quality surfaced on Facebook. Not only did he provide South African racing’s national treasure, Muis Roberts, with his first – and only – July win, as the old boy was born in 1992, by our calculations, that makes him South Africa’s oldest surviving July winner. So we tracked down his connections for a little trip down July memory lane.
David Ferraris, who also picked up his first July sash thanks to the son of Elliodor, was thrilled at his former charge doing so well, commenting, “Dynamite certainly does come in small packages as Muis Roberts found out when he pulled this little fella out for his run in the July. He was travelling like a steam train before he let him go and the rest is history!”
“He was no bigger than a pony, but had the heart of a lion. He was probably the only horse to have won 3 Derbies in one season – the Computaform, Cape and SA Derby. What a moment for us all when one of the greatest riders to have ever ridden a racehorse was provided with his only Durban July.”
For Muis Roberts, the little horse with the big heart will always occupy a special place in his heart, because Super Quality made Muis’ July dream come true. “I’d had quite a few rides in the July and not managed to win it and then I went to ride in England. The July is run on the same day as the Coral Eclipse (which he won twice with Mtoto), and obviously I couldn’t give up good rides in the UK to ride here,” he says sadly.
“That year I was supposed to be on North By Northwest, but then he won the Daily News with Weichong Marwing and Ferraris rang up and said, ‘Bad news, Marwing changed his mind and wants to ride North By Northwest, but you can ride Super Quality.’ Marwing was the stable jockey,” he explains. “There wasn’t much I could do as I’d already booked my tickets, but I wanted to come home to see my farm and my cattle, so I decided it didn’t matter too much. It just shows you how things work out in life sometimes,” he muses. “You never know what’s around the corner.”
Muis didn’t get to meet Super Quality until he walked into the parade ring on July day. “I saw this little horse and thought ‘Oh God, I’ve come all this way to ride a pony!’” he confesses. He didn’t get much confidence from the ground either. “David didn’t give me any orders. The only thing he said was to try and bring him down on the outside if I could, because apparently he didn’t like to go through horses. When we were being led out, I asked the groom whether he’d backed the horse and he said no, his money was on the other one and I thought ‘bloody hell!’, but cantering him down, I tell you what, he took me on and nearly ran away with me. I’ll never forget it. I pulled up next to Garth (Puller) and said ‘I’ve never come down in the July so well. I don’t know what he’s got in him, but geez, he’s well’.
In terms of how the race unfolded he remembers, “We had a bit of a rough passage early on. I think we drew 7 or 8 and at the Drill Hall we got bumped and shoved onto the rail. Being a small horse, he took quite a few nasty bumps. Coming up the hill, he started to tug with me again and I thought ‘jeez, I can’t believe how well he’s come’. I’ve never come into the straight with a horse like this in the July. As we came off the false rail, I looked to the left and there was no-one on our outside, so I moved out and got a perfect run and he virtually took off with me and was going very well. When we hit the front 200m out, I thought maybe I’d gone too soon – the July changes so fast and the whole picture can change in the last 200m. Thank God we hung on.”
Was it everything he’d dreamed? “It was one of the most exciting days of my racing career.” High praise indeed from someone who has raced at the highest level on the world stage. “It was very emotional. It was a great feeling, but more like mission accomplished.”
Asked to expand on that, he explains, “It’s like the Derby in England, the Melbourne Cup in Australia or the Kentucky Derby in the US. It’s the one big race that everyone knows. What got me was that I used to travel all over the country going to cattle auctions, especially for Jerseys and Red Angus. The cattle farmers knew nothing about racing, but they all knew I was a jockey and the first thing they always asked was whether I’d won the July. Being champion jockey so many times meant nothing!” he laughs, “But finally I can say I have.”
“It just shows you how much interest the July created all over the country. I was blessed in the July. Like the Met, it’s one of those special races. The July is the July. I don’t care what anybody says, that’s our baby in South Africa because when you went on that track and they played that Rothmans tune, your heart stopped for a couple of seconds. I tell you, you look down the track and just see the masses. It’s hard to describe. I think you can ask any jockey – when that tune gets played, you get a lump in your throat. Anything can happen in the July.”
Re-live their big moment below:-
At the end of his racing career, Super Quality retired to Julie Hyams (daughter of the late Colin Hyams). So what’s it like owning a July winner? She laughs. “It’s my only claim to fame! People always ask whether I owned him in racing, but sadly not, it was only after.”
Julie explains that her mom, Dawn Hyams, is an equine vet and the family had stables in the south of Johannesburg, not too far from where David was training at the time. “David was amazing,” she continues. “He sent us all his good horses that needed rest and relaxation or were recovering from an op or anything like that. My dad had horses with David at the time and that’s really how it came about.”
“When Qualie came to us for a rest, I fell in love with him. He was owned by Paddy Hinton at the time. When he went back to training, both Paddy and David decided it was too much and wanted to retire him. David approached my mum and asked if we wanted him because he knew we loved the horse! The rest, as they say, is history. I was given him as a 7 year old and he is turning 26 this year,” she smiles affectionately.
Asked to describe Super Quality, she says, “He’s the most inquisitive, intelligent and intuitive horse I’ve ever owned. I think part of that comes from being such a well-travelled racehorse. He has the biggest heart ever. He knows me, he knows my voice and we understand each other so well. We just ‘click.'”
“After he came out of training, we initially gave him a six month rest and I then began schooling him. I had a few lessons on him and we did a little dressage and jumping, but all for fun, nothing competitive. I stabled in Kyalami initially so that he was close to where I worked and I could nip off for late afternoon lessons and outrides which were great fun. When I got married and went on honeymoon, I decided I couldn’t leave him at the stables, knowing there would be nobody to ensure him his daily dose of cuddles and carrots and decided to move him back home to my mother’s stables while I was away. He just blossomed. He knew the farm and settled immediately and was incredibly happy there. Needless to say, I ended up keeping him there and commuting twice a week instead.”
“He’s very attached to me and because he’s such a one person horse, I’ve only ever let my mum ride him. I rode until I was 8 months pregnant, before being advised to stop. I was worried that he might get bored during his time off and asked my mum to help out and ride him for me – that didn’t go down well for either Qualie or my mum and he had an extended holiday instead. I got on him again 2 months later and he was a little gem, not putting a foot wrong.”
She also notes that he has a less serious side. “He is very playful, whether it be with a cardboard box, a bucket, a game of “chicken” in the paddock or a spray down. He loves water and in summer, enjoys nothing more than being soaked from head to toe before having a good roll.”
Super Quality was a R240k purchase from the D Cohen & Sons’ National Sales draft. By Odessa’s resident sire Elliodor out of a daughter of Do Battle named Reveille, Super Quality had an illustrious career spanning 24 starts for 10 wins and 5 places, with highlights being a unique trifecta of the 1995 Cape Derby, SA and Computaform Derbies as well as his crowning glory, the 1997 Rothmans July. “I love that he was such a good racehorse and any photos or information I can get on him, I keep,” says Julie. “He was such a great little horse – he’s only 15’2, so relatively small, yet he achieved so much.”
She has kept in touch with David over the years and sends him regular updates and photos. “My dad was good friends with David and even after Dad passed on, we’ve stayed in touch. David always lets us know when Luke is riding or has ridden a winner – it’s so nice to watch his progress. David has always been amazing with his horses and makes sure that those that are re-homed only go to the best, most loving homes.”
A few years ago, a special reunion was arranged and Super Quality was taken to the National Yearling Sales where he was reunited in the sales ring with David, Michael Roberts and his racing groom. “It was fantastic and quite emotional for all involved,” she remembers.
Just before Julie’s father passed away, the farm was sold and her parents moved to Lonehill, close to Julie, while Super Quality is now in a beautiful, quiet and relaxed private yard in Sun Valley, where Julie hacks him out when she has the time.
“I have had many horses, but none quite like Qualie. We have the most amazing bond and he will always be my special boy. The little boy with the big heart. We’ve been through a lot together and at this rate, will be going grey together too. It has been the biggest privilege to own and be part of this great little horse’s life.”