South Africa's Duke strikes again

Cape Town - Only a few days before the Springboks facile win over Samoa, South Africa scored another famous victory.

On September 12, Duke of Marmalade’s filly Simple Verse triumphed in the St Leger horse race. In any other year perhaps this wouldn’t be worthy of a South African newsreader’s attention.

However, this is not any other year. And this just isn’t any other horse race. This victory is an accomplishment every South African horseracing fan or sports follower will appreciate and inspire to stand tall with a sense of patriotic pride. The day marked the first time ever that a horse winning a British Classic was sired by a stallion standing in South Africa.

The surrounds of Kenilworth Racecourse in Cape Town are littered with street names paying homage to famous British racing events and venues to which they owe their origin: Ascot, Derby, Epsom. The latter two of these road names both referring to the Epsom Derby, perhaps the world’s most prestigious horse race, and one of Britain’s five “Classics”.

Another – “Doncaster Road”, which lies as a tangent to Kenilworth racecourse’s final turn – is the name of one of Britain’s oldest and largest racecourses, home to another of the prestigious Classics, and the final leg of the British Triple Crown: the St Leger.    

This race of historical significance was first run in 1776, making it the oldest Classic horserace in the world. Traditionally it marks the final leg of both the male and female Triple Crowns – both competing against their own sex in the first two legs before taking on each other in the climactic St Leger.

The “Triple Crown” could be likened to the Grand Slam in golf or tennis, an extraordinary achievement to accomplish in horseracing. This year in the USA marked the first winner of their version since 1978 while in Britain the male equivalent dates back to 1970 when won by Nijinsky and the female version to 1985 with Oh So Sharp.

What makes Simple Verse’s win all the more remarkable is that it takes an extremely talented filly to beat the males in this the most gruelling of the Classics. In fact, it has been 23 years since the last female was to win this race and she is only the seventh to do so since the Second World War.

The most famous winning connections of a filly to win the St Leger were Dunfermline’s in 1977, being owned by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Simple Verse had to exude courage and tenacity to match her class in order to overcome her male opposition, being boxed in for a run with two furlongs to go and having to force her way through horses to take the lead, ultimately earning a hard-fought and well-deserved victory.

Simple Verse’s victory was a coup for the South African thoroughbred industry. Her sire, Duke of Marmalade, was a Champion European racehorse purchased and imported to South Africa in July 2014 where he now stands at Drakenstein Stud Farm in Franschhoek, also home to the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate horse race.

Since his move to South Africa, ‘The Duke’ has produced a string of successes including the winners of what is now four European Classics this season, making him now all the more valuable to South African breeders.

His first South African foals were born in August of this year. Local and international horse buyers will soon be on an enthusiastic, if not frantic race, to find that next Simple Verse among them.

And with the Duke’s value now being considerably higher in Europe one has to wonder if he will remain on South African soil, or if he will return to his native Ireland where he would command a significantly greater stud fee.

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