Owner Marsh Shirtliff is on the cusp of an historic third Cape Winter Series championship title after Gem King stormed home to win the R250 000 World Sports Betting Gr3 Legal Eagle Stakes at Kenilworth on Saturday.
A doyen of the Cape owner ranks, Shirtliff’s familiar pink, white and blue flag was carried by two of the only three previous winners of the winter triple crown. African Night Sky won the series in the Fred Crabbia silks in 2017.
The first of the Shirtliff strikes was the Mike Bass-trained multiple champion Pocket Power, who wrapped up the series when winning the Gr3 Winter Derby on 17 June 2006 beating the top notch grey, and subsequent dual Dubai feature winner, Silver Mist (Glen Hatt), with Golden Dice (Piet Botha) in third.
Marsh had to wait 14 years for his next winter triple crown winner, Katak.
The son of Potala Palace made it five from when winning the Gr3 Pocket Power Stakes on 26 July 2020. He was subsequently exported to Singapore, where he coincidentally unsuccessfully contested the Gr1 Kranji Mile just hours before Gem King eclipsed the second leg on Saturday. The highs and lows of the game!
On Saturday, the Legal Eagle Stakes belonged to Gem King – despite bullish overtures from the connections of the impressive and uber-consistent Future Prince.
Turning for home last after Snaith’s recent maiden winner Navy Strength had made the pace, Gem King (3-1) picked it up beautifully and strode clear to beat the low-flying Winchester Mansion (14-1) by three quarters of a length in a time 111,77 secs.
The fancied Future Prince (11-10) appeared to have every reasonable opportunity, and just didn’t lift when the button was pressed. He plodded into third, a further 1,25 lengths in arrears.
Winning rider Richard Fourie, who replaced the unavailable Bernard Fayd’herbe, said he had simple instructions to give his mount ‘a chance’.
“This horse has such an amazing turn of foot. There was some scrimmaging on the turn. He blew me away today. I think he will find all of the trip in the 2400m as he doesn’t touch the bridle. The Steyn team have done a great job. And thanks to Tyron Langdon who does all the work when I’m not here.”
Trainer Piet Steyn conceded that he was not as confident this time round as he had been before the first leg.
“His work hasn’t been that good and he didn’t go down all that well. But he is a good horse and he won with authority. Thanks to Marsh (Shirtliff) and Bryn (Ressell) for buying him for me and to Varsfontein for breeding another top horse. After Katak didn’t put it in a performance this morning, I was a bit down. Then finally, thanks to my son Elbert and my staff too. And it was a great ride from Richard Fourie,” concluded the veteran with an eagle eye for a decent horse.
The Varsfontein-bred Gem King was a R250 000 buy from the 2020 Cape Yearling Sale. He is one of several talented three-year-olds representing Master Of My Fate this season with others including recent Gr2 World Sports Betting Guineas winner and Hollywoodbets Durban July candidate, Zapatillas.
Varsfontein Stud resident Master Of My Fate had a successful day at Kenilworth on Saturday when siring the winners of three of the nine races run on the card.
Gem King is out of the speedy Damascus Gate mare, Gem Queen, and took his record to 5 wins with 4 places from 12 starts for stakes of R483 850.
The final leg of the series, the R250 000 WSB Gr3 Pocket Power Stakes will be run over 2400m at Kenilworth on Saturday 25 June, and offers a bonus of R200 000 to Gem King’s connections if he wins that. Jockey Richard Fourie clearly sees no stamina doubts for the smart gelding. However. Racing Manager Mark van Deventer wasn’t quite as bullish. Time will tell!
Currently fourth on the General Sires List (he was second last season), Gem King’s sire Master Of My Fate has three lots on offer at each of the upcoming CTS Farm Yearling Sale and the 2022 BSA KZN Yearling Sale.