The Zimbabweans Are Back!

Getting Down To Business with a proud history

The victory of Down To Business in the Listed Lonsdale Stirrup Cup at Hollywoodbets Greyville on Saturday surely came as a huge tonic to the beleaguered Zimbabwean racing fraternity.

The Down To Business connections after the Lonsdale Stirrup Cup victory at Hollywoodbets Greyville on Saturday

The Down To Business connections after the Lonsdale Stirrup Cup victory at Hollywoodbets Greyville on Saturday (Pic – Candiese Lenferna)

A South African-bred son of Wylie Hall, the four-year-old joined the stable of Peter Muscutt boasting an impressive formline of five wins and three places from as many starts in his adopted country, having won the OK Grand Challenge and finishing in the frame in both the Zimbabwe Guineas and Castle Tankard.

The gelding made his local debut on New Year’s day with a creditable fourth in the Christmas Handicap and prior to the Lonsdale, gave notice of his stamina abilities when beaten a head and a neck in the World Sports Betting Highland Night Cup in his first attempt over the 2400m trip.

He joins a fine list of Zimbabwean-raced horses to have scored at stakes level in South Africa, stretching back to the post-World War II years, with the magnificent Spey Bridge.

Champion Ipi Tombe and Mike de Kock after the Durban July win

Champion Ipi Tombe and Mike de Kock after the Durban July win (Pic – Supplied)

Bred in the then Rhodesia and owned and trained by Cookie Amos, he won both the Gr1 Champion Stakes and Gr1 Clairwood Winter Handicap as a four-year-old and proved he was every inch a champion at age five when he won the 1956 Durban July under top weight of 58 kg.

To this day, he is the benchmark against which every Zimbabwean champion is measured, with the annual racing awards named in his honour.

The late sixties brought more Gr1 success when Rhodesian-owned champion Merciless Sun crossed the Limpopo to defeat the locals in the 1968 Johannesburg Summer Handicap at Turffontein.

Bred by Herman Kok at Verborgenfontein Stud, the colt had carried all before him in his adopted country with victories in the Castle Tankard, the Rhodesian Guineas and Derby, and in the Summer Handicap, he crossed the line a half length in front of 3-1 favourite Bill Baily.

Fast forward to the early nineties and a gelding called Bluff, a son of champion sire Tilden. The Zimbabwean Guineas winner and Champion 3YO went on to become a fine ambassador for his native country after joining the Summerveld stables of Alistair Gordon.

Joburg Summer Handicap winner Merciless Sun and Joe Byrnes

Joburg Summer Handicap winner Merciless Sun and Joe Byrnes (Pic – Supplied)

He won a vintage renewal of the 1994 Drill Hall Stakes under Glen Hatt, beating Pas De Quoi, with Horse of the Year Flaming Rock back in fourth.

Also successful in the Gr3 Ashburton Training Centre Handicap, his string of placed efforts included a second in the Gr2 Keith Hepburn Champion Stakes, a third in the Gr3 Frank Lambert Stakes, and fourths in both the Gr1 First National Bank 1600 and Schweppes Challenge.

The start of the new millennium brought with it the Zimbabwean-bred champion Ipi Tombe.

Bought as a yearling in Zimbabwe for a measly $1250 in 2000, she only started her career at age three and arrived at the Mike de Kock yard a winner of four of her five Zimbabwean starts.

She made her South African debut in the Gr1 Triple Tiara 1600 and went down by just three-parts of a length to Kournikova. The latter subsequently became a stakes producer in Ireland for the famed Airlie Stud.

Ipi Tombe never looked back after that defeat, winning all four remaining South African starts.

She exacted revenge in the (then) Gr2 SA Fillies Classic (Kournikova ran third) before reeling off three Gr1 victories in the SA Fillies Guineas, Woolavington 2000 and the ultimate prize, the Vodacom Durban July, where she overcame a wide draw to defeat subsequent Met winner Angus, whilst becoming the first female winner in 18 years.

Named the Champion 3yo Filly in both South Africa and Zimbabwe, she was sold to Barry Irwin’s Team Valor International and would trail a blaze for Mike de Kock in Dubai.

Earl Of Surrey

Earl Of Surrey (Pic – Supplied)

She went undefeated in three starts, culminating in a smashing victory in the Gr1 Dubai Duty Free, where she set a new track record. Sent to the States, she won the 2003 running of the Gr3 Locust Grove Handicap at Churchill Downs and to this day, is the only Zimbabwean-bred horse ever to have won on American soil.

Sadly, as a broodmare Ipi Tombe never replicated herself, but as fortune would have it, Drakenstein Stud imported her Pivotal daughter Pin Turn, who has kept the flame alive as the dam of Gr3 Flamboyant Stakes and Swallow Stakes winner, Zimbaba.

If ever a horse deserved the moniker ‘tough as teak’, it must be the Zimbabwean-bred gelding Earl Of Surrey.

After winning eight of his first nine starts in his native country, including both the Guineas and Derby, Earl Of Surrey arrived in South Africa in 2007 but went home empty-handed after unplaced efforts in both the Gr1 Summer Cup and Gr3 London New Stakes.

Side-lined for almost a year, he made a winning return in November 2008 before again venturing south with trainer Lisa Harris.

Following an eye-catching third in the Gr2 Hawaii Stakes, he was transferred to the yard of Geoff Woodruff and in his first outing for the stable, went down narrowly to Rebel King in the Gr3 Senor Santa Handicap, only to claim the Gr2 Drill Hall Stakes in his first start at Hollywoodbets Greyville.

Remarkably, the Zimbabwean-bred broke through at Gr1 level in a sprint when he powered his way to an impressive, career-best victory in the Golden Horse Sprint at Hollywoodbets Scottsville.

Lisa Harris was on-course to watch her former charge’s finest moment and described it as “a much-needed boost for our beloved Zim.”

Also successful in the Gr2 Hawaii Stakes and runner-up in the Gr1 H F Oppenheimer Horse Chestnut Stakes as a seven-year-old veteran, this grand stamp of a horse overcame a fractured pelvis yet was still a force to be reckoned with at age nine, winning all but two of his final eight starts, including four stakes races.

He eventually retired on a winning note, having won 21 races, seven of which in South Africa.

Zim bred Tandava wins the Senor Santa

Zim bred Tandava wins the Senor Santa (Pic – Supplied)

The late Neil Bruss also had the privilege of training a tough and talented Zimbabwean-bred filly called The Pick.

Runner-up in the Zimbabwe Oaks, she blossomed in South Africa, winning the Listed Queen Palm as a four-year-old and finishing second the next year.

Ex Zimbabwean James Armitage, whose father Geoff bred the daughter of Kahir Almaydan, remembers her well.

“She was an amazing filly, tough and strong and one of only two horses ever to beat Ipi Tombe – that by almost three lengths in a 1600m Fillies Handicap at Borrowdale Park.”

James rues the fact that the mare never left a daughter to breed from.

“She was a disappointing broodmare who had physical problems. After she gave us three small colts by Goldkeeper, of which two raced and only one placed, we didn’t persevere with her.”

More recently, the Zimbabwean-bred Tandava tasted South African stakes success when he outsprinted a classy field for a career-best victory in the 2018 Gr2 Senor Santa Stakes.

It was the biggest payday for the Zimbabwean-bred gelding, who counted the Republic Cup amongst his eight Zimbabwean wins and added another five to his tally in South Africa.

Incidentally, both Earl Of Surrey and Tandava are by Australian-bred Century Stand, a Gr3-placed winner of four races in South Africa.

Retired to stud in Zimbabwe in 2001, he is a grandson of the legendary Antipodean stallion, Sir Tristram.

As for Down To Business, his facile Lonsdale victory sets him up for a crack at the Gold Cup.

He wouldn’t be the first Zimbabwean winner of what is still regarded by many as the country’s premier staying event.

That honour went to the fine stayer Numerator, who claimed the honours in 1975 for Mike de Kock’s mentor, the late Ricky Howard-Ginsberg.

A son of Durban July and Champion Stakes winner Numeral, this Zimbabwean-bred, a multiple stakes winner in his native country, made amends for his neck defeat in the previous year’s Gold Cup.


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