Not that I usually consider myself a fool on a normal day, it just sometimes feels that way when faced with horses and especially those standouts that carry their presence at all times.
Watching most horses is special, whether it be searching for the next champion, as at the past two yearling sales, watching foals and stallions on the farms, or seeing them perform at the racetrack. Watching great race-horses is an emotional experience just by the sheer magnificence of their athleticism and the heart with which they compete. This past Saturday showed us just such a horse, as Abashiri won the R2 Million SA Derby, the third and final leg of the Triple Crown to become only the third South African Triple Crown winner. He was so nearly beaten at the post but gave his all and put his head down when it mattered most. To take nothing away from the runner-up Rocketball, who so very nearly caused an upset and fought as hard, it is that fighting spirit, heart and attitude that make a great horse. The Mike Azzie yard say that Abashiri is a dream to work with, unfussed and uncomplicated and just gets on with his work, allowing that easy action and magical stride to carry him over the line first.
The three-year old Abashiri was bred at Lammerskraal Stud by the US-bred Go Deputy whose dam sire was Secretariat – himself one of the most famous Triple Crown winners. These incredible horses have the ability to draw crowds, a massive fan-base and re-ignite a broader passion for horse racing that is sorely needed across the globe.
Just last year the USA witnessed this passion and new interest as American Pharaoh became the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown and followed that up by winning the Breeder’s Cup. He’s also un-fussed and easy to work with, as seen in recent clips from his jockey Victor Espinoza, visiting him at Coolmore’s Ashford Farm in Lexington – he’s still relaxed, charming, being polite to the cat and covering mares – all in a day’s work for this supreme Equine athlete that became a household name.
I’m incredibly fortunate to have been invited to the 142nd Kentucky Derby! Beyond thrilled and very excited to see the incredible horses on Friday and Saturday, I will be hard pushed to choose my favourites. For the Kentucky Oaks I can’t help but lean towards Rachel’s Valentina – daughter of the champion race mare Rachel Alexandra and, for similar name reasons,as well as a penchant for plain bay fillies, Cathryn Sophia. They are both highly rated in the betting however, being currently first and second favourite showing no real selection skill on my part.
Come Derby day on Saturday, the crowd and excitement and sheer thrill of seeing the contenders is likely to be too overwhelming, so I claim my choices now as Mohayman, Creator, Whitmore and Nyquist and only Saturday will reveal the real outcome and the new Kentucky Derby Champion.
What I do know for certain is that come 5 pm when Lady Antebellum sings the National Anthem, through the parade of horses and riders, the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” and the race at 6.30pm I will be hiding behind my dark glasses and hoping to avoid any make-up meltdown as there will be tears running down my face. Foolish perhaps, but such is the emotion that these incredible horses bring out. Playing a part in the history of the Thoroughbred racehorse daily and at such special events is truly a privilege and we can’t wait to share the experience.