This year’s Sun Met has attracted a vintage field and falls four-and-a-half decades after two of the greatest renewals of the big race.
A number of horses in this year’s line up including Hawwaam, Vardy, Do It Again, Rainbow Bridge, One World and Twist Of Fate are fast gaining fan clubs around the country and such was the case ahead of the Met in both 1975 and 1976.
The 1975/1975 season was known as the “Year Of The Sledge” as the Fred Rickaby-trained New Zealand-bred four-year-old superstar Sledgehammer won eight of his ten races, including five of the country’s most important weight for age events.
In the August of that season another of the era’s superstars, the George Azzie-trained Elevation, had beaten Sledgehammer narrowly in the Transvaal Champion Stakes at Gosforth Park but he had crossed the latter and the subsequent objection was upheld.
In December in the Holiday Inns (Summer Cup) over 2000m at Turffontein Elevation gained revenge on both Sledgehammer and “the Cape’s grey bomber” Jamaican Music, who had defeated him in the Hawaii Stakes. It was Elevation’s third successive Holiday Inns victory and elevated him to the status of all-time great. .
.The ‘championship’ then headed south where the Met was to be run on January 18.
Sledgehammer’s stamina was going to be tested to the limit as a typically strong South Easter was blowing on the day, so when his gate sensationally opened slowly it might well have worked to his advantage as Ballyhoo set a scorching pace in front.
The Ralph Rixon-trained Jamaican Music seized the lead at the 400m mark while Michael Roberts on “The Sledge” sat glued to Elevation’s tail.
Both great horses launched their challenges at the same time on either side of Jamaican Music. However, Sledgehammer went past Elevation as if he was standing still and vengeance was complete.
However, in the following year’s Met Sledgehammer met his match in the form of the great Gatecrasher.
In fact most of the connections went in to the race believing they were running for second as Gatecrasher had put up one of the best compulsory big-race gallops ever seen in this country.
Apprentice Paddy Wynne was riding Gatecrasher’s gallop partner, the sprinter Glenever, who subsequently won the Grade 2 Merchants.
Gatecrasher began his gallop at the 1800m mark under big race rider Garth Puller and Wynne was instructed to wait at around the 1000m mark and then pick up the big chestnut and give him a lead into the straight.
However, when given the signal Glenever blitzed away and Wynne, as hard as he tried, was unable to control him.
Eventually the red-faced young apprentice accepted his fate and let his mount go, resigning himself to the “hot water” he believed he had landed himself in. Imagine his surprise when Gatecrasher, having traveled virtually double the distance of this specialist sprinter, came bounding past him at the 200m mark before going away to beat him by five lengths!
When the Racegoer went to visit trainer Herman Brown Senior over a decade ago to talk about the best horse he had ever trained he greeted them with the words, “So you’ve come to talk about Gatecrasher, the greatest horse to ever race in this country.”
He might well have been the greatest if all courses were left-handed as he was never beaten that way around and he beat Sledgehammer by two lengths in the 1976 Met.
Puller described Gatecrasher as a horse with an enormous stride who would stretch out further and further the more you asked him.