His famous Dad Syd always told him to ‘keep your eyes and ears open, and your mouth shut’ during an apprenticeship at the Alberton stables that has produced a generation of champions.
It’s been seventeen long summers since Randjesfontein-based Alec Laird saddled the Rakeen colt Malteme to beat Likeithot under Guilermo Figueroa and seal the honours in the then Steinhoff-sponsored Summer Cup under the now retired Brett ‘Bart’ Smith.
A man who hails from one of South Africa’s most respected racing families, Laird’s 2023 Betway Summer Cup aspirations on Saturday lie with the Varsfontein-bred Master Of My Fate gelding Atticus Finch.
A 4yo who has won his last four races on the trot, culminating in the Betway Gr3 Victory Moon Stakes, it’s his biggest test to date!
A revelation since gelding, the big question mark against Atticus Finch, currently at around 6-1 with Hollywoodbets, is whether he will stay the 2000m, which he tries for the first time.
As previously noted, Atticus’ sire Master Of My Fate (Jet Master) injects sufficient stamina to get the trip.
His damsire is Caesour who sired the likes of Irridescence, winner of the Gr1 QE II Cup in Hong Kong over 2000m, as well as Regal Ransom, winner of the Gr1 Champions Challenge over the Summer Cup course and distance.
Atticus Finch’s dam Alexia was an unplaced maiden, but she is very well related, being the dam of Saturday’s Merchants fancy Main Defender’s dam Alessia (Judpot), as well as being a full sister to two stakes winners and a half-sister to two others.
Drawn perfectly at 6 on Saturday, Atticus Finch will be ridden by Calvin Habib, who won this race in 2021 on Flying Carpet.
And, while Mike de Kock and Sean Tarry, with 14 trophies between them, are the Summer Cup big-hitters, the veteran Alec Laird is overdue to win it again. Let’s face it, Malteme in 2006 feels like a lifetime away!
It’s been a long road in the Sport Of Kings and fascinating to reflect that Alec was close to turning 1 when his legendary Dad saddled 40-1 outsider Kerason who just got his nose in front under jockey G Walker to deny the Oppenheimer-owned Hengist, for the first of 7 Syd Laird winners in the Durban July.
Alec saddled London News on that well-documented groundbreaking international conquest to win the Gr1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes in Hong Kong in 1997 – an event on a par with the Springboks’ 1995 World Cup victory, for SA racing at the time.
Alec just smiles at the suggestion that he’s so often been referred to as ‘Syd’s son’ or ‘London News’ trainer’.
Looking back, Alec told the Sporting Post that his best times in the early years were when Dad was away raiding Cape Town or Durban, because that’s when he got to try out his own ideas and that’s when he learnt the most.
“The first time he went away, I overworked the horses. We discussed it when he got back and I realised he was right. The second time, I underworked them. Eventually I got it right. There were no cell phones in those days, so while he was away, I had to wait till the end of the day to phone and say how things went. I loved phoning him when we’d had a winner.”
Syd was in Cape Town for the 1988 Guineas with a filly called Mill Hill, when he died of a heart attack.
“He insisted on going to Cape Town on his own – he had no assistant and was doing it all himself. He had a heart attack and dropped dead in Barn 6 on the 8 February. I had to go down and sort everything out. Mill Hill was scheduled to run in the Rex Trueform at Kenilworth – it’s an 1800m race that isn’t on the programme anymore. She ran and she won and that was the first winner in my name. That was on the 20 February. The owners were wonderful – they simply made out the cheques to me and that was it.”
Mill Hill started it 35 years ago. Atticus Finch could continue the legacy on Saturday.