Saturday’s Hollywoodbets Kenilworth meeting features the last leg of the Winter Series, the WSB Gr3 Pocket Power Stakes.
Previously run as the Winter Derby, it was renamed three years ago to honour one of the greats of the South African turf whose dominance at the top spanned three glorious seasons.
The saga of this mighty warrior has its origins in 1998, when former breeder Dan de Wet of the famed Zandvliet Stud (which sadly is no more), purchased the then twelve-year-old mare Stormsvlei for the princely sum of R20,000 at the Natal Broodmare Sale. As far as Dan was concerned, Stormsvlei was a perfect match for most of the top sires.
She had scored three times for American owner E W Miller, who also raced her sire Prince Florimund. The son of Dowdstown Charley famously handed Wolf Power a three and a half length drubbing in the Gr1 (then) SA Guineas, followed up in the Gr1 SA Two Thousand (now Daily News 2000) and again had the beating of Wolf Power in the Clairwood Winter Handicap.
Voted Horse of the Year and Champion Three-year-old, he added the Gr1 Champion Stakes in his sole outing as a four-year-old and was sent to the States where he joined the California stables of the legendary trainer Charlie Whittingham.
A winner of Gr3 San Gabriel Handicap at Santa Anita, his finest effort was in defeat when he tested the mighty John Henry in Hollywood Park’s Gr2 American Handicap. On the lead from the jump, he only succumbed to the American legend in the closing stages and was beaten just over a length.
But back to Stormsvlei, she was bred by Miller from the Prince Sao mare Distant Echoes, whose career was highlighted by her victory in the Gr1 Garden Province Stakes. She achieved further fame as the dam of the Champion sprinter Harry’s Echoe, who clearly took after his sire Harry Hotspur. He accounted for no less than eight stakes races, prime amongst which the Gilbeys, Chairmans and Concord Stakes.
At the time of purchase, Stormsvlei was in foal to Damascus Gate, but to everyone’s disappointment, delivered a runty filly. Born with a cleft palate, she sadly was put down as a yearling.
With the arrival of the new millennium came champion Jet Master, whose good looks matched his splendid achievements on the racetrack.
On his Tesio software, Dan’s pairing of the champ with Stormsvlei convinced him this was the ultimate mating, giving inbreeding to the French champion Herbager, whilst adding extra lines of the breed-shaping taproot mares Perfume II and Sister Sarah.
The result of this mating?
A good-looking bay colt named Pocket Power, who grew into a strong, magnificent yearling with tremendous girth, a sloping shoulder, and a good keen stride.
As Dan later remarked: “he was the type of horse that took charge, led the pack and caught the eye of every astute horseman.”
Enter master trainer Mike Bass, who snapped up the youngster at the Cape Yearling Sale for R190,000, the second top price. Given ample time to mature, Pocket Power became a champion for Marsh Shirtliff and Arthur Webber.
Unraced at two, he was unplaced in his first three starts, but then cleaned up during the Cape Winter season and became the first horse in history to win the Winter Series.
That served as a launching pad to a brilliant, 20-win career, three Horse of the Year titles and a handful of other champion accolades. A joint winner of the Gr1 Durban July, he scored nine times at Gr1 level, whilst his record of four L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate and three Met victories is likely to stand for a very long time. Truly a horse for all ages.
Only two other sophomores have since managed to win the Winter Series, Fred Crabbia’s African Night Sky in 2017 and undefeated Katak in 2020. Remarkably, the latter raced in the same Shirtliff silks as Pocket Power and appropriately, took his record to a perfect five from five when he won the final leg the first time it was run in honour of the former champion.
As regards Stormsvlei, she returned to Jet Master once more and again the stars aligned, for that mating resulted in the filly River Jetez, who thwarted her brother’s bid of a fourth Met victory when she won the 2009 renewal, with Pocket Power finishing third. She subsequently traversed the globe, winning Dubai’s Gr2 Balanchine, finished second in both the Gr1 Dubai Duty Free and Gr1 Singapore Airlines International Cup before crossing the Atlantic to run third in the Gr1 Beverly D Stakes at Arlington Park.
Returned to South Africa, she became a successful broodmare and is the dam of the Gr1 winning sprinter Rivarine and Gr3 winner Delta Queen.
By the way, two other daughters of Stormsvlei have also contributed to their dam’s fine record, albeit on a lesser scale.
Western Winter daughter Maximum Break won four races and when mated to Silvano, produced Zimbabwe Oaks third Sylvianna.
Stormsvlei dropped her last foal in 2006, a filly by the disappointing stallion Second Empire. Named Stormz Emprez, she never saw the track and as a broodmare, has produced three winners, the best of which Jacaranda Handicap third Return To Power.
In recognition of the achievements of Pocket Power and River Jetez, Stormsvlei was named Broodmare of the Year in 2007 and again in 2009. She died in 2010 at the ripe old age of 23.
It is only fitting that she too, will be honoured on Saturday with the running of the Listed Stormsvlei Stakes, an 1800m race for fillies and mares.