The Gauteng Sansui Summer Cup is nearly as old as Johannesburg and it’s fitting the race is run at Turffontein, a venue that overlooks the city’s landmark mine dumps.
These dumps form an integral part of the history of the Summer Cup. Well into the 1880s, news about the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand resulted in an influx of people desperately seeking fortune. They came from all walks of life, in coaches and ox wagons, as well as on foot and horseback.
The first horse racing in Joburg took place in December 1886 and the inaugural Summer Cup was run the following year as the Johannesburg Handicap. No one could have imagined that from its humble beginning the Summer Cup would become one of SA’s most famous racing events. In its heyday, the Summer Cup was the highlight of the Johannesburg feature race season and one of the city’s social events of the year.
But after Cape challenger King’s Guard’s victory in 1971, the name of the race was changed to accommodate a sponsor. As the years rolled by, further changes to the name, conditions and date diminished the event’s glitter and it eventually became the Champion Stakes, run in April.
In 1999, horse racing and tote betting company Phumelela reintroduced the Summer Cup to the racing calendar in its traditional format and the event is now firmly established as one of the big four on the country’s racing calendar. One horse who really grabbed the attention was Java, trained by Jack Butler.
He pulled off a remarkable Summer Cup treble from 1956 as a four-year-old. Elevation was to repeat those exploits almost 20 years later. Trained by the inimitable George Azzie, the chestnut landed his first victory in 1972, when the race was run as the Holiday Inns for the first time. He went on to score again in 1973 before completing a fantastic treble under a big weight in 1974.
Trainer Mike de Kock has won the race a record nine times, with six of those victories coming since the race’s reintroduction. Geoff Woodruff has won the race five times, including the last three runnings – with Yorker in 2013, Louis
The King in 2014 and Master Sabina last year. Woodruff believes Master Sabina is working well enough to win the race again this year.