Sansui Summer Cup
Sansui Summer Cup


Turffontein, Turf, 2000m

26 November 2011

Along with the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup, the Sansui Summer Cup is the joint third richest race on the South African calendar. It is topped only by the Vodacom Durban July and the J&B Met, and while these two might hold the upper hand in terms of value, neither is any richer when it comes to tradition. Contested in the heart of Africa’s biggest commercial city, Johannesburg, the Summer Cup was born out of history’s most famous gold rush, and it has spawned some of the greatest racers our sport has known. Its reputation as a legend-maker is matched only by it’s storied connection with some of the most stirring political events of our times, the most bizarre of which was the postponement of the infamous Jameson Raid by a week, to avoid that calamity clashing with the staging of the 1895 edition of the race. You see, the raid was inspired by the most powerful Randlords of their time, Cecil John Rhodes and Sir Alfred Beit (with Sir Abe Bailey and Henry Nourse in the wings), and most of them either had horses competing, or were stewards of the Johannesburg Turf Club. Here was an attempted coup d’etat aimed the military overthrow of Paul Kruger’s Transvaal Republic, and it’s argued by more than one student of the politics of the era, that the week’s delay occasioned the leaking of news of the intended raid, hence the fiasco it turned out to be.

Time was that when the Summer Cup (or Handicap, as it was in it’s earliest manifestation) overtook all sporting events in prestige and prize money, when it was contested under the guise of The Holiday Inns, worth R100,000. While there’ve been any number of fabled winners of the “Summer” since its first running in 1887, it’s arguable that among its most fabled sons included were the great Java, Home Guard and Elevation, who won it three times in a row under top weight, with the tragically talented Martin Schoeman in the irons. Elevation was to become one of the most successful South African-bred stallions of his era, eventually aspiring to the status of champion of the nation.

From a Summerhill perspective, we haven’t held a better hand in the event since Pick Six led home a farm exacta in 2008 from the enigmatic millionaire, Emperor Napoleon, under the unlikely name “Gomma Gomma, the race once more boasted the biggest purse of R3million. The class of the race in 2011 is undoubtedly rags-to-riches hero, Pierre Jourdan, who’s been set the unimaginable task of shouldering 60kgs (yes, 132 pounds or 9st 6lbs as they used to say in the old days), from draw 19, which is akin to starting in Loveday Street with the rest of the field lining up in Eloff Street. He’s in good shape though, and he’s unbeaten this term, following an inspiring effort in the Vodacom Durban July, where only Horse Of The Year, Igugu, was good enough to shade him.

Besides, his trainer seems to have something up his sleeve. As he did when PJ was plundering the Classics as a three-year-old, he looks to have a joyous premonition. As he did then, Gary Alexander wears a beatific smile, as though he knows something others don’t.

We have two other strings to our bow, though we’d have to admit to a suspicion that there must be something of a conspiracy up there among the gods who organised the draw. The runaway victor in last week’s Victory Moon Stakes, Smanjemanje, has not only ended up at draw 13, but he’s been penalised six pounds for his dominant effort in that outing. The question is, was the difference the cornel collar made to his breathing apparatus, such that it raised his game five or six lengths? If so, he’s a runner. He couldn’t be in better shape for this, the biggest assignment of his life, but coping with the additional impost and a draw beyond 10 might be decisive.

Finally, we come to Black Wing, who must be in with a proper shout if the form of the Daily News 2000 (Gr1) has anything to do with the outcome, particularly as he now goes to post in blinkers. The likely favourite for Saturday’s big event, The Apache, was the hero of that championship three-year-old contest, and here Black Wing is 3,5 kgs better off with that one for a beating of less than a length.

At the weights, that’s enough to turn the tables, but the question is, can he overcome his 14 draw, as well as his ride from sea level to 6000 feet, and still get the toughest 2000m in racing? The 800m Turffontein straight is murderous, and its victims include some of the best stayers of their generations. Yet there is something about distance, and what it demands of man and his horses, which separates it from the shorter stuff. It gives a fresh dimension to Geoffrey Blaney’s theory about the tyranny of distance. There is a charm involved. It allows you to hang on to your myths.

Whichever way you look at it, the farm holds a decent hand, and our runners are ready to play it.

At the human level, we still have to overcome the hurdle on Friday of a pre-race party at Mike and Diane de Kock’sDainfern Estate, where the trimmings and the trappings of several seasons of high plunder in the desert sands of Dubai, are gloriously evident.

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