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By Mike Moon

Horse racing correspondent

A Mother of a choice for A Nother family star

Mike de Kock ponders skipping Oaks for Empress Club history.

Winning the Grade 1 Empress Club Stakes at Turffontein with three generations of a female bloodline would be a stunning thoroughbred breeding feat. Freakish even.

And it wouldn’t be just three Empress Clubs, but four.

Veteran trainer Mike de Kock suggested this possibility at the weekend when he expressed doubt about tackling the SA Oaks in a month’s time with star charge Gimme A Nother.

The three-year-old has already won the first two legs of the Wilgerbosdrift Triple Tiara – the 1600m Gauteng Guineas and the 1800m SA Fillies Classic – and would appear to have Leg 3, the 2450m Oaks, at her mercy on 6 April. That would mean not only winning one of South Africa’s most historic classic races, with its sizeable purse, but clinching the prized Tiara and a R1-million bonus prize.

Group 1 races

“I’m not convinced,” said De Kock when asked the formulaic question about completing the Triple – following 1-3 shot Gimme A Nother’s demolition of her opposition in Saturday’s Grade 1 Fillies Classic.

“Without being demeaning to the Oaks, there’s the Empress Club Stakes on the same day,” he explained. “It’s a Group 1, it’s a mile; that looks a more enticing prospect to me. At this stage of the game, we’ve got to concentrate on the Group 1 races.”

Of course, a while back, the marathon SA Oaks was degraded to a Grade 2 – due to a decline in the quality of entrants. (Stamina in racehorse breeding is no longer as fashionable as it once was.)

De Kock was quick to add a decision would not be taken in haste and consultation was planned before pitching Gimme A Nother in with older horses.

The master horseman spoke a lot about Gimme A Nother’s brilliant dam and granddam – Mother Russia and Nother Russia – both of whom he trained at his Randjesfontein yard.

Mother Russia won 13 of her 27 races, including four Grade 1s, and was runner-up in another four. The great race mare had only one foal at stud before she died prematurely at six. This was Nother Russia, who won eight of 18, with two Grade 1s.

De Kock said the youngster “might be better than the grandmother … and the mother”.

Oppenheimer colours

What De Kock didn’t specifically mention was that Mother Russia won the Empress Club once and Nother Russia won it twice.

Breeding experts say female family lines seldom maintain excellence – it’s a numbers thing, with mares only producing offspring once a year.

So, this threesome is highly unusual and adding another Empress Club to the honours roll would set the phenomenon in gold, so to speak.

It’s not just an equine female line that’s involved.

Mary Slack, nee Oppenheimer, acquired Mother Russia as a three-year-old and the star galloper carried the racing doyenne’s black and red silks for much if her career. Slack sold the orphan foal by Tiger Ridge, born on her Wilgerbosdrift stud, to her daughter Jessica, who’d recently taken charge of the Oppenheimer family’s storied Mauritzfontein stud.

Jessica and husband Steven Jell raced Nother Russia in the famous old Oppenheimer colours, before sending her to be covered by national champion sire Gimmethegreenlight – sharing the breeding credit with mum’s Wilgerbosdrift.

Another huge complication in the saga is the fact that Wilgerbosdrift sponsors not only the SA Oaks but the entire Triple Tiara.

How does the Oppenheimer-Slack-Jell family decide what race their girl runs in?

It’s worth noting that the Oppenheimer black and yellow has already been carried to two Triple Tiara triumphs – by Cherry On The Top, cheered on by grandmother Bridget in 2013, and Summer Pudding, when Jessica had inherited the bounty in 2020. Also, the immortal Horse Chestnut won the Triple Crown for Bridget and husband Harry back in the 1990s.

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