It was an adrenalin rush of note… the only thing that could cap it would be a sky dive!
— Gill Simpkins
David Thiselton
David Thiselton

The Mike Miller-trained three-year-old Solskjaer filly Lady Cougar, who won first time out at Clairwood on Saturday, provided another example of the well-known theory that horses can make fools of people as she was bought for little other reason than her name.

Gold Circle’s popular Public Relations Manager Gill Simpkins is among the owners and not only experienced the thrill of a first ever runner, but was later pinching herself when Lady Cougar stayed on resolutely to win under Corné Orffer, despite starting at odds of 25-1 and being green in the straight in the Maiden Plate for fillies and mares over 1450m. 

The owners also include Miller’s wife and daughter, Rae and Callie, as well as Sandra Nel, Rozanne Hodgson, Leonie Dillon Ermacora and the chief shareholder Baroness Bergsma.

Simpkins was the motivating force behind the purchase of Lady Cougar. She noticed the filly immediately upon arriving at the stabling section of Summerhill’s Summer Ready To Run Sale in February last year, as she was the only horse to pop her head out, and after reading her name decided there and then that it would be a good fun idea to race her with a group of her lady friends.

Rae Miller, Sandra Nel and the Baroness Bergsma were also at the Sale and were immediately taken by the notion and Simpkins then began badgering Miller to buy her. 

Miller said, “She is a little horse and very plain and she turns in slightly on one leg, so you could see why not everybody was crazy about her.”

Lady Cougar had been a reject from the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Sale the previous November, but Miller did notice that she “moved okay” in the video that was shown of her “breeze up” gallop. He duly secured her for R35,000 after outbidding only one other interested party.

He continued, “We brought her home and every month she got better. I then put her on the grass and she galloped very well twice, so I said to myself hang on we’ve got something here and I knew I wouldn’t get into trouble with the ladies with this one. However, she didn’t want to know about the pens. She tends to shake her head up and down when she gets excited and we had to work flat out to get her used to the pens. Otherwise she would have made her debut three months earlier, but I must say the ladies have been very patient.”

Miller had a problem finding a jockey for Saturday’s race and eventually had to phone Corné Orffer in Mauritius, as he had heard that the rider with whom he has always had a good association was due to return to South Africa on the weekend. 

Orffer revealed in the post-race interview that Miller had been very bullish about Lady Cougar’s chances, as she had been working “very well”, and had advised him to try and make it back in time for the ride. He duly landed in Durban on Friday and went to Clairwood the following day for just the single ride.

Lady Cougar jumped well from an inside draw and travelled well throughout in a handy position, despite it being the first time she had ever been around a turn. She showed her inexperience in the straight when continually shifting away from the stick. Consequently Orffer had to change whip hands on three occasions before keeping her straight with his hands and heels in the last 50 metres, by which time she had the race won. All the while the ecstatic owners were shouting her home and could hardly believe it when she crossed the line 0,75 lengths clear.

“It was an adrenalin rush of note”, said Simpkins, “the only thing that could cap it would be a sky dive!”

It was a particularly emotional moment for Leonie Dillon Ermacora, the widow of the veteran KZN-based jockey Peter Dillon, and she had brought her late husband’s whip to the course for good luck.

Miller concluded, “I thought Corné rode a very good race. She was a bit uncomfortable in the pens, but she’s gutsy.”

Lady Cougar looks certain to improve and on breeding will go further, so she should provide the ladies with a lot more fun.

Extract from Gold Circle