Seems as if the older we get, the quicker time flies.
Hence, as 2023 is drawing to a close, we take a moment to reflect on some of the racing highlights.
In what proved to be an especially momentous year, Drakenstein Stud not only repeated as the country’s leading breeders, the blue and white team also stood in isolated splendour at the top of the owners’ log.
The stud’s owner Gaynor Rupert is deservedly reaping the rewards of her considerable investment in local racing and breeding, and over the past twelve months has watched her silks carried to victory in a number of the country’s premier Gr1 races.
The year started with a bang when Drakenstein-bred Nic Jonsson-owned Jet Dark took his Gr1 tally to five with a storming victory in the WSB Cape Town Met.
That proved to be the champion’s swansong and he returned to his birthplace where this spring he covered a star-studded book of mares in his first season.
For the Hollywoodbets Durban July, Drakenstein assembled an army of five homebreds, which is an achievement in itself, and it was Winchester Mansion who claimed the country’s most iconic race.
In fact, it was a first July success all round for the owner/breeder, trainer Brett Crawford, as well as jockey Kabelo Matsunyane .
Other homebreds to score at the highest level were Trip Of Fortune and dual champion Rain In Holland, the former travelling to Turffontein to annex the H F Oppenheimer Horse Chestnut Stakes, whereas the latter notched up a third Gr1 success by leading home a Drakenstein one-three-four in the Woolavington 2000 at Hollywoodbets Greyville.
Success at the elite level continues unabated, for earlier this month, the stud celebrated a fine homebred classic double with Beach Bomb claiming the WSB Gr1 Cape Fillies Guineas and Snow Pilot the Hollywoodbets Gr1 Cape Guineas.
However, 2023 is perhaps best remembered for the achievements of two Drakenstein-bred sophomores, Charles Dickens and See It Again.
The former, a son of Trippi, had bypassed the sales ring thanks to the fact that he displaces his palate and was retained to race in the interests of his stud.
He turned out to be one of the talking horses of the year and was crowned the country’s champion miler and champion three-year-old male, following victories in the Hollywoodbets Gr1 Cape Guineas, Hollywoodbets Gr1 Gold Challenge and Gr2 WSB Guineas.
See It Again was ‘one that got away’ when he was sold to Nick Jonsson as a yearling.
Trained by former champion jockey Michael Roberts, this three-part brother to erstwhile Horse of the Year Do It Again made heads turn when he upstaged Charles Dickens in the SplashOut Gr1 Cape Derby.
Second to his old nemesis in the Gr2 WSB Guineas, he went on to complete a classic double in the Gr1 Daily News 2000, whilst only Winchester Mansion deprived him of victory in the July.
The son of Twice Over most recently scored a scintillating win in the recent WSB Gr2 Green Point Stakes, where he had Charles Dickens back in third, and he is sure to make his presence felt in the new year.
As much as Drakenstein dominated on the track, it did miss out on the coveted Horse of the Year award, which, for the second year in succession, went the way of a member of the fairer sex.
Flower Alley five-year-old Princess Calla was the epitome of class and versatility in a season which saw her travel the country and notch up three successive Gr1’s.
Bred by Maine Chance and trained by Sean Tarry, Mario Ferreira’s mare won the Gr1 SA Fillies Sprint over 1200m, followed up in the Ridgemont Gr1 Garden Province Stakes over a mile, and proved her superiority over the extra furlong when landing the Gr1 Champions Cup with authority.
In addition to this treble, her stakes haul also included the Gr2 Southern Cross Stakes, Gr2 Sceptre Stakes and Gr2 Senor Santa Stakes as well as a runner-up spot in the Gr1 Computaform Sprint.
She remains in training as a six-year-old and following her recent fourth in the Green Point Stakes, has the Gr1 Cartier Paddock Stakes as her next target.
The remarkable upswing in thoroughbred sales of 2022 continued unabated in 2023, with all sales recording across-the-board gains.
Varsfontein-based Gimmethegreenlight featured as the sire of the year’s R3,800,000 top priced yearling.
Offered by Maine Chance Farms at the Cape Premier Yearling Sale and out of the stakes winner Victoria Lavelle, the colt was hammered down to the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
The most expensive yearling filly and also the highest-priced lot sold at the National Yearling Sale was a R3,200,000 full sister to Kommetdieding from Oldlands Stud, which was purchased by Kenneth Pillay’s Kestorm Investments.
On the stallion front, Gimmethegreenlight ruled supreme, reclaiming the crown he had relinquished to Silvano in 2022 and such was his superiority, that he led on all fronts as the leading overall sire, sire of two-year-olds and three-year-olds.
He currently finds himself atop the general sires list once again and with the likes of champions Bless My Stars, Sandringham Summit and the, as yet undefeated filly Gimme A Nother to represent him, he is well placed to clinch a third General Sires title.
The premature loss of both Lancaster Bomber and New Predator was starkly underlined this year. The former, who was last season’s leading freshman sire, has the distinction of siring the Gr1 Guineas winners Beach Bomb and Snow Pilot in his very first crop, a rare achievement indeed.
Ridgemont welcomed New Predator to its stallion ranks earlier in the year, but tragedy struck when he died in a paddock incident in July.
He too had the makings of a fine stallion, considering first-crop son Purple Pitcher claimed the notable scalps of Gimmeanotherchance and champion Sandringham Summit in the Gr2 Dingaans.
On a more positive note, freshman stallion One World is off to a flying start with his first juvenile runners, siring four individual winners in quick succession.
As for 2024, the new year is set to kick off on an explosive high with the running of the Gr1 L’Ormarins King’s Plate, which promises to be yet another mouth-watering clash between See It Again and Charles Dickens, whilst the classic generation is likely to be represented by Snow Pilot and Hluhluwe.
Speaking of which, who will emerge as the season’s top sophomore? We will probably have to wait for the KZN winter season’s Gr1 action, which traditionally determines the season’s champions.
Until such time, we can look forward to the Triple Crown and the Triple Tiara.
Now wouldn’t it be grand if visitors from the south crossed the Vaal to take on the likes of local standouts Sandringham Summit and Gimme A Nother? We can but hope.
Wishing you all a wonderful 2024!