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Timeform’s Racehorses Of 2013

Timeform 'Racehorses of 2013'Every year in March a massive tome is published by Timeform, the world’s authority on racehorse ratings. It carries essays on the best horses that raced during the previous year, and has ratings for all of the best horses world-wide.

South African horses feature prominently in ‘Racehorses of 2013’, which spans some 1200 pages of tightly set type and photographs.

We reproduce two essays here, on Shea Shea and Soft Falling Rain, both of whom campaigned in UK and Dubai. They make for riveting reading.

The annual Racehorses Of 2013, priced at £79 (plus p&p), can be ordered on-line at www.timeform.com



4 b.c. National Assembly (CAN) – Gardener’s Delight (USA) (Giant’s Causeway (USA) 132) [2013 a7g* a8g* a8g* 7g2 8m* 8s Oct 19]

Four wins from six starts in 2013 and prize money earnings of over half a million pounds, most of it from his success in the Godolphin Mile on World Cup night at Meydan, sums up an excellent season for Soft Falling Rain. He is certainly a much better racehorse than he showed when beating only one home in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on British Champions’ Day at Ascot to end his campaign on a particularly low note. Soft Falling Rain seemed unable to handle the soft ground that day, something his trainer, South African-based Mike de Kock, had expressed his doubts about in the lead-up to the race.
Judged on the form he showed when winning another race in the British Champions’ Series, the Joel Stakes at Newmarket the previous month, Soft Falling Rain should prove more than capable of holding his own in the top mile events in 2014 granted suitable conditions, and he should provide some stiff competition for the Hannon duo of Toronado and Olympic Glory and the pick of the new classic generation in such races in Britain.

A Group 1 success in Britain is certainly overdue for his pioneering trainer as well as his owner Hamdan Al Maktoum, who finished second to Godolphin in the owners’ championship in the latest season without enjoying a Group 1 success (he has not had one since Bethrah in the 2010 Irish One Thousand Guineas and his last Group 1 winner in Britain was Awzaan in the 2009 Middle Park).

Bred in South Africa, Soft Falling Rain was the champion juvenile in his native country in 2012 after an unbeaten four-race campaign culminating in the Grade 1 South African Nursery over six furlongs at Turffontein in April of that year, when he beat his fifteen rivals by upwards of four and a half lengths. With the Dubai Carnival on the agenda for 2013, and strict new export protocols in place for horses leaving South Africa (for more details see the essay on Shea Shea), Soft Falling Rain went into quarantine soon after that win and wasn’t seen again on a racecourse until the following January, when justifying favouritism in a seven-furlong minor event at Meydan.

Despite plenty of his yard’s runners needing their first outings at the Carnival and the fact that he was having his first start on a synthetic surface (tapeta), Soft Falling Rain had little trouble conceding upwards of 2lb all around, readily forging clear to score comfortably by two and a half lengths. Soft Falling Rain didn’t need to improve to land a weak renewal of the Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas on his next outing, having no problem stepping up another furlong in trip to beat Godolphin’s Snowboarder by two and a quarter lengths.

Often seen as one of the weaker races of World Cup night, the Group 2 Godolphin Mile (run on tapeta) has a healthy prize fund of over £600,000 and Soft Falling Rain started favourite at 9/4 to see off his fifteen rivals, which included the smart British-trained duo Penitent (one of only three others to start at single-figure odds) and Red Jazz, as well as a four-strong challenge from Godolphin, attempting to win the race for the fifth consecutive year. Soft Falling Rain took his unbeaten record to seven, though the success wasn’t anything like so comfortable as his two previous victories at the Carnival, primarily because of a tricky draw. Having to race wide throughout from stall thirteen under his owner’s retained jockey Paul Hanagan, Soft Falling Rain found plenty under pressure to hit the front late on, beating Haatheq by three quarters of a length, with Moonwalk In Paris doing best of the Godolphin contingent in third a length further back.

A drop back to six furlongs for the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot was said to be on the cards for a while but, with his trainer reporting in early-June that Soft Falling Rain needed more time, he eventually reappeared in the seven-furlong Hungerford Stakes at Newbury in mid-August. Running on turf for the first time in 2013, Soft Falling Rain lost his unbeaten record, going down by a length and a half to Gregorian but recording a respectable effort on form nonetheless, conceding weight all round and headed only in the final half furlong after being asked to make the running for a change (he took a keen hold).

Soft Falling Rain’s late-season entries suggested his connections might not have been sure whether to campaign him as a sprinter or a miler, though an impressive win in the Nayef Joel Stakes at Newmarket’s Cambridgeshire meeting did much to confirm that the longer trip probably suits him best. The Joel Stakes, which was upgraded to Group 2 in 2011, has been won by subsequent Dubai Duty Free winner Cityscape and by Eagle Mountain, who landed the 2008 renewal on his first outing for Mike de Kock before finishing second in the Breeder’s Cup Turf (behind Conduit) and then winning the Hong Kong Cup. On Timeform’s reading of the form-book, Soft Falling Rain produced the best winning performance in the twenty-six-year history of the Joel. The Richard Hannon-trained Montiridge, who had landed a brace of listed races as well as the Group 3 Thoroughbred Stakes earlier in the season, looked the main danger to Soft Falling Rain beforehand, but, like the rest, he was brushed aside by the winner, who was put to his best a fair way out and found plenty after taking over with still three furlongs to run. Montiridge briefly loomed up but was beaten three and a half lengths into second, with a further five lengths back to third-placed Premio Loco.

Soft Falling Rain was bred at Highlands Farm Stud in South Africa, and is from the last crop of National Assembly, who was retired from stallion duties in 2008 after a successful career which saw him sire numerous Grade 1 winners. He died at the age of thirty in January 2014. A son of Danzig, National Assembly was purchased for 2,500,000 dollars at Keeneland as a yearling by Robert Sangster and went into training with Vincent O’Brien. Illness prevented him from racing as a two-year-old, and he was purchased by Highlands Stud after being retired unraced after suffering a chipped knee at three. Although never champion sire in South Africa, National Assembly had a very successful career at stud, with many of his progeny known for their speed and precocity. Soft Falling Rain isn’t the only son of National Assembly to enjoy success outside South Africa. After establishing himself as the best sprinter in his own country, National Currency, who was also bred at Highlands, went on to finish second to Silent Witness in the Hong Kong Sprint before winning a listed race at the Dubai Carnival by six and a half lengths (he died due to complications arising from what was believed to be a scorpion or snake bite a few weeks later). Two others by National Assembly, National Colour and Grand Emporium, enjoyed success in Dubai before outings in Europe, the former coming second to Borderlescott in the 2008 Nunthorpe. National Assembly also sired triple Grade 1 winner National Emblem, who went on to become a successful stallion in his own right (sire of Shea Shea) before succumbing to colic in early-2013. Soft Falling Rain is the second foal produced by the Giant’s Causeway mare Gardener’s Delight who raced in South Africa, winning over nine furlongs. Her first three foals are all winners, the others being Rose Garden (by Spectrum), a dual winner over a mile, and My Nephew Eric (by Sail From Seattle) who landed a seven-furlong maiden at Kenilworth on his debut in April.

Plans for Soft Falling Rain to try sprinting in 2013 never came to fruition, and he showed at both Meydan and Newmarket that he stays a mile well, at least when conditions aren’t testing.

A strong colt, Soft Falling Rain acts on tapeta and good to firm ground. The Dubai Carnival seems likely to be the first port of call for Soft Falling Rain in 2014, before reportedly being returned to Britain where, along with Shea Shea, he gives his trainer a good hand once more in the top races for horses of their type.
– M.F. de Kock, South Africa



6 b.g. National Emblem (SAF) – Yankee Clipper (SAF) (Jallad (USA) 89) [2013 5g 5g* 5m* 5f2 6f4 5d2 Aug 23]

Success at the Dubai World Cup Carnival is nothing new for South African-based trainer Mike de Kock who first saddled runners in Dubai in 2003, when Ipi Tombe (Dubai Duty Free) and Victory Moon (UAE Derby) gave their trainer a World Cup night double. The following year saw the birth of the Dubai International Racing Carnival (now titled the Dubai World Cup Carnival), a ten-week series of meetings offering generous prize money and culminating in World Cup night with a card that now features five Group 1s.

In the ten renewals of the Carnival (which has been at Meydan since 2010), de Kock has been the leading international trainer eight times, saddling a further nine winners on World Cup night along the way, a total bettered only by Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor. Mike de Kock’s success at the latest Carnival, when he was again leading overseas trainer with fifteen winners, included two on World Cup night with Shea Shea in the Al Quoz Sprint and Soft Falling Rain in the Godolphin Mile.

The results must have been particularly pleasing for all involved, given the extended quarantine procedure many of de Kock’s horses (including Shea Shea and Soft Falling Rain) had to go through before running in Dubai. Stringent new export protocols – the need for which has been disputed by de Kock – were put in place for horses leaving South Africa after a severe outbreak of African horse sickness in 2011.
Fourteen of de Kock’s runners at the 2013 Carnival had to spend five months in quarantine across four different countries in 2012 in the lead-up to the event; the group spent a month in South Africa followed by three months in Mauritius, a month at Newmarket and then a further short stint in isolation once arriving in Dubai in December.

His success at the Carnival also says much for de Kock’s judgement, with the trainer having had to start planning his 2013 Carnival team as early as April 2012. The lengthy quarantine process, during which training is highly restricted, clearly had no detrimental or lasting effect on Shea Shea and Soft Falling Rain, who both followed their big wins at the Carnival with notable runs in Britain later in the year, when they formed part of de Kock’s European string based at Abington Place stables at Newmarket.

Shea Shea started off his career in 2010 under the care of another of South Africa’s leading trainers, Geoff Woodruff, who saddled him to win eight races in his native country over the next three seasons. Any thoughts of classic success were shelved after Shea Shea managed only sixth in the Gauteng Guineas over a mile at Turffontein (the first leg of the South African triple crown) in April 2011, and connections concentrated on sprinting there-after.

Shea Shea went on to record two wins at Grade 1 level for Woodruff in the Golden Horseshoe Sprint Handicap over six furlongs at Scottsville in 2011 and the five-furlong Computaform Sprint at Turffontein the following April, the latter often seen as the defining race in the South African sprinting calendar.
Having firmly established himself, Shea Shea’s owners next had their eyes set on an international campaign, and the gelding was transferred to Mike de Kock and sent into quarantine, with the 2013 Dubai World Cup Carnival the initial aim.

Shea Shea’s first run in Dubai was inauspicious, only seventh behind Medicean Man when 15/8 favourite in a five-furlong handicap, though many of de Kock’s runners at the Carnival seemed to need their initial outing, understandably so perhaps in light of the irksome quarantine process. Shea Shea was duly much improved when impressively landing a listed race over the same trip on his next outing five weeks later, breaking the Meydan track record when beating Irish raider Sole Power by two and a half lengths.

That form made Shea Shea the one to beat in the Al Quoz Sprint, the five-furlong Group 1 on World Cup night, and he recorded another high-class effort (as well as clocking an even quicker time) when beating the Hong Kong-trained pair Joy And Fun, who was making his third appearance in the racing having won it in 2010 and finished third in 2012, and Eagle Regiment, who had landed the Centenary Sprint Cup at Sha Tin two months previously. The margins were three quarters of a length and the same again, with Sole Power a further length away in fourth.

She Shea failed to add to his tally in three runs afterwards in Britain but he still acquitted himself well, unlike numerous other Dubai big-race winners in recent years who have failed to carry over their form to Europe later in the season. The King’s Stand was the first target, in a bid to become the first South African-trained winner at Royal Ascot, and Shea Shea did pretty much all he could in stamping his authority on those he raced with, leading entering the final furlong towards the far side of the course.

Unfortunately, the field became spread over the course in the final two furlongs and Shea Shea was headed close home by Sole Power, whose late burst on the opposite side of the track got him home by a neck. Incidentally that was the only time Sole Power finished ahead of Shea Shea in the pair’s five meetings in 2013. Shea Shea finished one place ahead of Sole Power next time, when the pair finished fourth and fifth in the July Cup at Newmarket, though neither looked completely suited by the step up to six furlongs, Shea Shea briefly looking the main threat to the winner Lethal Force before being beaten off up the last-furlong climb to the finish.

Shea Shea was back at five furlongs for the Nunthorpe at York and again shaped better than the bare result, finishing second, a nose ahead of Sole Power, behind the shock winner Jwala. Travelling strongly as usual, Shea Shea, ridden for the first time by Frankie Dettori (Christophe Soumillon had ridden him previously in 2013), loomed up looking a big danger over a furlong out but couldn’t quite peg back the more prominently-ridden Jwala, going down by half a length after arguably being caught further back than ideal.

The similarities between Shea Shea and Soft Falling Rain also extend to their pedigrees, as both hail from the same sire line. Shea Shea is by National Emblem, a son of Soft Falling Rain’s sire National Assembly (about whom more can be found in the essay on Soft Falling Rain). National Emblem won fifteen races from two to five in his native South Africa, including three Grade 1s, and was crowned champion older male as a four-year-old after winning the Champion Stakes there.

At stud, National Emblem sired ten Grade 1 winners before his death from colic in January. Although National Emblem was successful over a mile and a quarter, many of his progeny haven’t lacked for speed, with Nhlavini and Rebel King, both champion sprinters in South Africa, among his other progeny. Shea Shea’s dam Yankee Clipper was a listed winner over a mile in South Africa and is a half-sister to a six-furlong listed winner Melting Moments (who is by another top South African sire Captain Al).

Melting Moments was also placed over a mile and a quarter, and is the dam of Leeward (also by Captain Al), another ’black type’ winner in South Africa. Shea Shea is the first stakes winner produced by Yankee Clipper, though Shea Shea’s brother, the Geoff Woodruff-trained Starspangledemblem, landed a maiden and a handicap at a mile and at nine furlongs in South Africa early in 2013.

Shea Shea’s unraced grandam Georgie Gorgeous is a half-sister to Fov’s Favourite, a leading sprinter in South Africa around the turn of the century who also landed the Computaform Sprint. A sturdy sort, who was gelded early in 2012, Shea Shea won at seven furlongs in South Africa but is a sprinter through and through, and a very speedy one at that (usually travels strongly) who found even Newmarket’s admittedly stiff six furlongs seeming to stretch him in the July Cup.  Shea Shea’s very best form in the latest season came on good ground or firmer (acts on firm), but he was far from disgraced on softish ground in the Nunthorpe, and he won a Grade 3 on soft during his time in South Africa (he also raced once on sand as a juvenile, finishing third).

Shea Shea is set to feature as one of his trainer’s Dubai Carnival team again in 2014, with a repeat win in the Al Quoz Sprint the main objective. He will again be a welcome addition to the British sprinting scene later in the campaign, with a second crack at the King’s Stand reportedly on the cards. Shea Shea is more than capable of adding further Group 1 successes to his record, particularly when the emphasis is firmly on speed.
– MF de Kock, South Africa.

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