Recognise who this is?
It’s great to re-live memories, so write your comment, and tell us more if you can.
The answer is of course, London News, seen here winning the 1996 Administrator’s Classic at Gosforth Park.
The London News story is a remarkable one and it starts in 1974 when Lowell and Murray Price attended a ram sale in Colesberg with the help of a local breeder, Ian “Dad” Hay. A Birch-bred Thoroughbred filly was led through the ring and the trio decided to purchase her. The hammer went the way of Murray Price at R1,000 and Soho Secret became the property of Price Bros. The tiny filly, who could reputedly fit under your arm, was entrusted to the care of Stanley Greeff and went on to win ten races up to 1800m.
Soho Secret then returned to the Price Bros paddocks, before being offered at auction in ‘around 1988/89’ and sold to Cheveley Stud’s Wilfred Koster. Remarkably, in a long and illustrious Soho Secret (named Champion Broodmare in 1995) produced seven Feature race winners by five different stallions in her long and illustrious career. Her name and legacy stretches to Breeders Cup winner Pluck and recent addition to our stallion ranks, Master Of My Fate. London News was arguably the best of her direct descendants, despite being born when his diminutive mother was 20 years old. London News was led through the ring at the 1994 National Yearling Sales and was knocked down to Laurie and Jean Jaffe for R140,000.
Consigned to Alec Laird, London News had his track debut over 1200m at the Vaal on 6 June 1995. With a young Anton Marcus in the saddle, he finished 16.5 lengths 10th adrift of Cash Ablaze. Three months and a birthday later, trainer Alec Laird sent the big gangly chestnut out as a 3yo in a 1200m maiden plate at Clairwood Park. With Doug Whyte in the irons this time, his charge showed smart improvement to finish 4th, 6.75 lengths behind Storm Brewing. The pair followed up smartly over Scottsville’s 1600m on 9 September, winning by 4.5 lengths.
Back in Gauteng, London News racked up two wins in quick succession in a Novice Plate and C Division handicap before facing the first major test of his fledgling career in the Jensen Electronics Dingaans on 25 November 1995. Alec Laird’s colt faced some testing opposition in the 1600m event at Turffontein, not least from the multiple Stakes winners Irish Ranger and What A Prospect. Nor had he ever raced on the softish going which he encountered this time. Not that any of that mattered. Doug Whyte had London News covered up in midfield as Sails Of Silk set the pace from Contact Sport, with Irish Ranger about six lengths back and What A Prospect and doubtful stayer Ashtontown near the back. Olympic Lord briefly took over from Sails Of Silk racing into the last 600m, but London News soon took care of that. He made rapid progress down the inside to take command inside the last 300m, and that was the last anybody saw of him. He went on to win by a facile 5.4 lengths.
After a short break, the colt shipped to Cape Town and had his first outing in the 1996 Cape Argus Guineas. The betting showed London News as the shortest priced Guineas favourite in decades, the big chestnut eventually going postward at the rather ludicrous odds of 6/10. The general view being that, should London News fail, then just about anything could happen. It nearly went to plan, but on the day, a somewhat immature London News got going late and ran on for a had no answer to the might of Ashtontown, finishing 0.75 lengths second and giving deceased sire Bush Telegraph a 1-2 result.
London News was sent out an even hotter favourite for the 3 February Cape Derby. Alec Laird’s colt has not enjoyed the best of luck in the Guineas and looked certain to relish the 400m longer Derby distance.
London News again had a torrid time of it in the Derby, being squeezed along the fence and having to ease coming to the last 200m. Again, it was not to be. Despite being handily place early on, it all went wrong as the field swung into the straight as Planetary Music barged his way to the front. A number of horses were compromised, including London News, who finished a creditable third, two lengths off Super Quality.
A month later back in Gauteng, London News turned the tables emphatically on his Cape Derby victor, beating Super Quality home by 7.25 lengths in the Administrator’s Classic at Gosforth Park. He then made his way back to KZN for the Durban season, finishing 3rd to Harmony Forever in the SA Guines of 11 May and then reversed the result impressively in the 8 June Daily News 2000, beating Harmony Forever home by 4.2 lengths.
From there London News followed in the footsteps of his illustrious sire, winning the Gr1 Rothmans July as a 3yo on 6 July 1996 for Piere Strydom. He also helped trainer Alec Laird follow in the footsteps of his illustrious father, Syd Laird, by winning his first July.
With Piere Strydom in the saddle again, London News disappointed in his first start as a 4yo, in the 1996 2000m Champion Stakes at Greyville, finishing 3.3 lengths back in 6th position. Kevin Shea could do no better and London News finished less than a length 3rd in the November Handicap over 1600m at Gosforth Park on 2 November 1996. He was then 8.25 lengths 6th for Jeff Lloyd in a 1200m warm-up sprint at Turffontein on 14 December.
Jimmy Lithgow chats to Frankie Dettori
But Laurie Jaffee had some ambitious plans for the horse and approached Jimmy Lithgow, in his capacity as GM: Marketing of the Highveld Racing Authority, to bring Frankie Dettori out to South Africa, on a short tour, to culminate in riding London News in the 1997 Queen’s Plate on 4th January. Dettori and his then fiancé, Catherine, came out with his Manager, Peter Burrell and his wife, shortly after Christmas of 1996, and he rode at Turffontein, booting home three winners (one of them for Graeme Hawkins), before heading off to a sweltering Durban, where he experienced a physical problem which he embarrassingly passed off as “a chaffing between the legs”, caused by his body protector. By the time Dettori had competed in a second meeting at Turffontein, before heading off to Cape Town, he was in considerable pain from what was actually a severe bout of haemorrhoids. This necessitated a visit to his hotel by a specialist, who treated him as best he could in the circumstances, but doubted his being well enough to ride in the Queen’s Plate. The Jaffees had organised a Friday night cocktail party at the Vineyard Hotel, which Frankie gamely attended, even summoning up enough strength to make a charming speech, but emergency riding plans were already being formulated by Laurie Jaffee and trainer Alec Laird. Lester Piggott happened to be among the guests at the party and stepped forward to volunteer his riding services, but as he had been retired for quite a while by then and his fitness was in serious question, Jaffee had difficulty in turning him down diplomatically.
Frankie Dettori and Lester Piggott
As it happened, Doug Whyte was able to step into the breach and flew down to Cape Town on the morning of Saturday, 4 January to take the ride, leaving a frustrated and clearly miffed Dettori to watch the Queen’s Plate lying in his hotel bedroom – on his stomach. London News flew to a 3.25 length victory and Dettori decided to return to London that same night, reportedly sore and smarting when Jimmy returned him and his fiancé to the airport. It was not a cheerful drive.
London News was at his absolute best when he lined up for the Met, with Whyte in the saddle, just short of a month later, and the three quarters of a length by which he defeated Eli’s Truth probably belied his superiority.
The Jaffees’ international ambitions for their spectacular colt saw the implementation of a high-tech vector-protected quarantine station at Kenilworth Racecourse to facilitate the export of London News for his attempt at the QEII Cup in Hong Kong. South Africa came to a standstill to watch the “Pride of South Africa” smashing the 1m2f track record at Sha Tin and becoming one of the comparatively few South African-bred horses to win at the top level on the international stage. There was a certain irony that Dettori had to watch London News’ chestnut rump power clear of his own mount, the Godolphin campaigned Annus Mirabilis, which finished third.
Had Dettori not succumbed to that bout of haemorrhoids, Dougie Whyte would not have been called up to deputise for him on London News, and he probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to establish a name for himself in Hong Kong and go on to become one of the world’s richest and most successful jockeys.
London News was then transferred from Alec Laird to Barry Hills. He ran at Royal Ascot and finished third to Henry Cecil’s champion filly, Bosra Sham in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, but disappointed behind Alhaarth when sent to The Curragh for the International Stakes.
London News rejoined Laird on his return to South Africa, finishing 0.5 lengths second to the mighty FLobayou in the 1997 Diadem Stakes over 1200m. He ran a little over 4 lengths 4th to Divine Force in the 1998 Queen’s Plate, was less than 3 lengths 5th under Karl Neisius in Imperious Sue’s 1998 Met. He came back after a layoff to triumph in the 1997 Drill Hall Stakes and then closed out his season – as well as his racing career – with a 4th placed finish behind Golden Hoard in the 1600m Nissan Challenge at Clairwood Park and had his swansong in the 1997 Rothmans July, finishing 4 lengths off Classic Flag.
London News was named ARCSA Champion 3yo Colt and Joint Horse of the Year in 1995 and was again named Horse of the Year as well as Champion Older Male in 1996.
He retired to stud at the Cheveley Stud of his birth and was champion first season sire. In 1996, he transferred to Terry Silcock’s Starston Stud, where he saw out the remainder of his life. London News proved a solid performer at stud and was unlucky not to have produced a Grade 1 winner as Port Of London won the Administrator’s Champion Stakes at Greyville in the only year it had Grade 2 status. His other notable runners include Sally Bowles, Oracle News, Mercury Chief and Manville.
In late October 2009 at the age of 17, London News was euthanised due to cancer. Starston’s Terry Silcock said: “He covered a mare last Saturday morning but around midday he started scratching. We immediately began treating him for colic but we soon realised that there was something else wrong. He had a growth on his small intestine. It’s a sad story because his breeder [Wilfred Koster], his owners [Laurie and Jean Jaffee] and now London News himself all died of cancer.”