King’s Pact (1950) And The Search For Greatness

Bruss on Breeding - The Queen of the Turf

The Queen Of The Turf from 1952 to 1954 was a phenomenon, the like of which had never been seen here before: King’s Pact lays solid claim to be the greatest filly ever bred in South Africa, writes Robin Bruss.

King’s Pact wins the Champion Stakes (10f) by 10.5 lengths in record time as a 2 year old – Shorty de la Rey is in the saddle

Born in 1950, the well named King’s Pact (by His Excellency (GB) – Magna Carta (GB) won 16 races in her three season career, including 13 of her first 16 races, amongst them 7 wins as a two year old.

At one time she was the South African record holder for consecutive wins with nine in a row, and all the more astonishing is that she had no distance limits – she won in top class company from 1000m to 2900m and everything in between.

She won the Clairwood Winter Handicap (now the Champions Cup Gr.1) over 9f as a 2 year old defeating the Met winner Snipe.  And her Champion Stakes win at Greyville over 10f in course record time beating the best older horses when she had not even turned 3 years old is an achievement never matched by colt or filly, and probably never will be.

She would have won the Durban July as a 3 year old, but the handicapper had her conceding an impossible 22 lbs (10,5 kg) to the best 3yo colt in the race, the winner C’est Ci Bon, and 11 lbs to the great horse Spey Bridge, who was to win the July with top weight the following year.  Kings Pact finished only 2 lengths off the winner.

King’s Pact after her Champion Stakes win at Greyville, 1953 with an adoring crowd

Her story is inspiring but once again demonstrates the roller coaster nature of breeding thoroughbreds, and the hope that we all have to achieve greatness in some way.

King’s Pact was bred by Mr V Russ at his Saulsport Stud in Bethlehem, in the Free State, about 90 km from Harrismith, midway on the N3 between Johannesburg and Durban.

In the heady days of the 1950’s the South African pound was at parity with the British pound (the Rand was introduced in 1961, and today it costs R24 to buy £1) and post war Britain was economically struggling. South African breeders imported over 500 broodmares and dozens of stallions to lay the modern foundation of the quality of our stud book.

Mr Russ imported HIS EXCELLENCY (GB) (1941)  a high class sprinter by the world’s leading sire, the unbeaten Nearco (14 wins in 14 starts).  His Excellency, according to Timeform’s Racehorses of 1943 assessment of 2 year olds “was unlikely to shine except in tests of SPEED. He is a tall colt of the greyhound build and he runs up very light in his back ribs – and he has an excitable temperament”, they wrote.

Rated 124 in the Free Handicap at 2 years, he did extend his speed to win at Ascot at 3 years over 8f, also ran 4th in the English 2000 Guineas and did attempt the English Derby but failed to stay 12f.

At the same time, Russ imported a mare MAGNA CARTA (GB) (1941) a daughter of the English Derby winner Windsor Slipper.

In her first three seasons, Russ mated his two imports together. The first two were fillies and were minor winners, but the third foal was KING’S PACT, a star of the first magnitude.

By the time Russ realised how good she was, King’s Pact was already being raced on lease terms to Mrs Agnes Murphy, wife of the trainer Willie Murphy.

Agnes Murphy leads in King’s Pact after winning the Greyville Champion Stakes 1953

In those days, the breeder had to nominate his foals and pay a sweepstake fee to the major two year old races such as the South African Nursery (est. 1906) and the Classic races on the Rand.

Russ did not enter King’s Pact in any, and therefore she was not able to run in the Classics of her own age group, a decided disadvantage, because it meant she was forced to run mostly in handicaps and against  older horses.  Not that it mattered as she beat them anyway!  However, she most certainly would have won the SA Nursery and the SA Oaks and the SA Derby had she run.

Trainer Murphy was apt to say that the filly was so good that she trained herself, with only light work in between a barrage of races.  Murphy did not spare her – even in handicaps, but the filly was astonishing in her resilience, toughness and consistency, as well as versatility.

Debut

After an “educational run” on her debut as early as November 26 of her 2 year old career in which she started 20/1 and finished 5th, King’s Pact started her winning streak.

On New Year’s day 1953, she was heavily backed in a field of 26 juveniles and won by 6 lengths.  She then won the Newmarket Nursery over 1200m by 4 lengths and in going for her 3rd win in a row, the handicapper had her carrying 136 lbs (62kg) conceding 23 lbs to the second horse. She won by 3 lengths.

Stepped up to a mile for the Stewards Nursery Plate at Turffontein in April, King’s Pact was allotted 141 lbs (64 kg) and the George Azzie trained Preto’s Crown had 104 lbs (47 kg). A 37 lbs difference in weight is equivalent to 15 lengths. It rained and the ground was soft and the filly ran second by a length.

The merit of the run was realised when Preto’s Crown, a 14 lengths inferior horse, went on to win the Durban July H. of 1955 – and King’s Pact over the next 8 months proceeded to win her next 9 races in a row.

There were no big races programmed for juvenile fillies in Durban in the 1950’s. King’s Pact went straight into the top division.

So on 6 May 1953, she appeared in the Newbury Chairmans Plate (WFA) at Greyville over 1200m, ready to meet the #1 champ of the older generation, the SA Record holder, the great 5 year old Mowgli, who had won the Durban Merchants, The Durban July, The Clairwood Winter and The Champion Stakes in 1952 and was the best horse in training.

To take him on with a 2 year old seemed folly – let alone a 2 year old FILLY.  

But King’s Pact was no ordinary filly. The public made her 5/4 favourite and she beat Mowgli by 5 lengths.

A week later, King’s Pact demolished a field of 2 year old colts over 1000m in the Stewards Handicap carrying 62 kg and starting 1/4 on, she won easily.  Two weeks later it was the JG Hollis Memorial over a mile at Clairwood against colts and she came home 4 lengths in front.

Emboldened by her fabulous success, Willie Murphy decided to do something no else had ever done, he would run his 2 year old filly in the famous Clairwood Winter Handicap on 18 July over 9 furlongs against the Met and the July winner 1953.  Nine of the runners had just competed in the Durban July and she met them all on very unfavourable weight terms.

Even today, we would consider such a move to be madness.  For King’s Pact it set the seal on her greatness. She won by a length from Snipe on 14 lbs worse terms than WFA. (equivalent of 5 l.).  He went on to win the Cape Met 1954.

King’s Pact wins the famous Clairwood Winter H. 9f as a 2 year old in 1953

In winning, Kings Pact established new record earnings for a 2 year old, and endeared herself to the racing public.

But Murphy was not done yet.  He wanted to run the filly in the Champion Stakes at Greyville over the untried distance of 10f and run on 8 August, well before her 3rd birthday.

With three weeks in between the races, Murphy wasn’t about to sit back and wait, he would run her again to keep sharp.

So on 1  August, she appeared in the Chairmans Plate at Greyville, dropping back in distance to 1400m. Kings’s Pact won by 5 lengths.

Queen of the Turf

She only walked for the next 6 days and reappeared in Greyville’s Champion Stakes on the 7th day.

She was supremely fit, and at her peak.  Everyone expected her to win – she was 1/4 on favourite and completely dominated to win by 10 lengths in record time – an astonishing performance and still only 2 years old defeating older horses.

King’s Pact’s amazing feat to win the 1953 Champion Stakes 10f by 10 lengths

Conformation

King’s Pact stood 16.1 hands and inherited the “greyhound” look of her sire.

She had a long back, lacked rib behind, and her hocks stood back from her.

You would have to wonder if you would have been brave enough to pick her out as a yearling.  Her breeder didn’t sell her, he leased her to the trainer, who also didn’t see her potential until she began racing.

Kings Pact as a 2 year old at the Newmarket stables of trainer W Murphy

If it was time to have a well-earned rest back home in Johannesburg, well there was not much of that. Within two months, King’s Pact was back on the road to Durban for the Natal Derby at 2400m against the colts, and at 1/10 on favourite, she won by 3,5 lengths in a canter.

King’s Pact wins the 1953 Natal Derby 12f., thrashing the colts

League of Her Own

By now it was crystal clear that King’s Pact was in a league of her own.

But could she take racing so frequently carry such big weights without ultimately burning out?

Back on the Rand and the rich Summer season beckoned.  The Benoni Handicap at a mile with a huge weight was win no. 11 and a week later, the Transvaal Sprint H. at Turffontein over 6 furlongs was a dazzling win no. 12 and ninth in succession. She beat a 6 years old sprinter conceding him 33 lbs, clocking a record 1 min 9,6 secs with champion jockey Tiger Wright in the irons.

Appalling Weight for the Summer Cup

As a prep for the Summer Cup, it made her super hot favourite, but the handicapper put all but the grandstand on her back – appalling in its severity.

The filly conceded between 7kg and 21 kg to the rest of the field.  All horses are flesh and blood and in the end “weight stops trains” – it rained, the ground was heavy, she was hampered and finished unplaced.

Murphy wasn’t daunted. He popped the filly down to Durban a week later and won the Goodwood S. (WFA) at Greyville 1600m.

Although the Natal St Leger was 14,5f (2900m), it was evident she would outclass the opposition and it was win no 14.   Her prep run for the 1953 July was the Durban Centenary Cup 9f at Greyville (today the Greyville 1900) and she won again, win no 15.

She ran the best and most gallant race in the 1953 Durban July over 2100m to be 5th two lengths off the 3yo winner Cest Ci Bon, conceding him 22 lbs. She would have won by 9 lengths if it was at level weights!

King’s Pact’s final win was a reprise of the Champion Stakes win at Greyville over 10f. with champion jockey Charlie Barends having the honour to record her 16th victory starting at 1/4 on and cheered home by an adoring crowd.

King’s Pact wins the Greyville Champion S. 10f for the second time under a tight hold

Stud Career

King’s Pact returned to Saulspoort Stud in Bethlehem. Her first two colts were both Stakes Winners for Mr Russ:

Royal Charter (1956) Pachademis-Kings Pact, won 9 races including the Woolavington Stayers and Autumn Goldfields S.

Royal Monarch  (1960) Black Cap-Kings Pact, won 8 races including the Lonsdale Stirrup.

In 1961, Saulspoort Stud went up for  dispersal auction and King’s Pact was sold to DBF Geldenhuys and produced three foals for him before dying. One of the three was only placed and didn’t produce a live foal. The other two were big success stories.

Kings Agree (1962) colt by Abadan – King’s Pact, was the only progeny of the great mare to go to the National Yearling Sales, making R4,200 which was the 5th top price. He was a high class sprinter, won 13 of his 57 starts, including the Cape Merchants S. and ended up at stud siring the Majorca S winner Another Child.

Queens Pact (1963) filly by Abadan – Kings Pact, was raced by HE Amos and won 5 races including the Majorca S. (now Gr.1) and was 2nd by a head in the Paddock S. (Gr.1). The only chance to carry on the bloodline of the great mare, Queens Pact produced only one foal before being dying, a filly, but she produced only one foal, a colt, and then she died.

Kings Pact, dam of 5 foals, FOUR of them Stakes Winners, of 35 wins, was a successful broodmare, but the dynasty had been stopped and the bloodline lost to SA breeding.

There is no doubt that KING’S PACT was a great Champion whose exploits are greater than any South African bred filly in the last century.

There was a period when Gold Circle commemorated her name in a non black-type race for a few years, but it seems obvious if we are to value and honour the tradition of our Turf and the 200 year history that guides every one of us and record our names and those of our horses for posterity, that KING’S PACT deserves a Great Gr1 Championship race to be named after her.

Great horses guide us, their stories give us hope, they offer lessons for the future, as much as they honour the past and they should be remembered and commemorated.

 

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