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By Mike Moon

Horse racing correspondent

SA ‘Super 11’ headed for Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar

Rupert, Bruss and Irwin pull off a wildly ambitious Stateside raid.

We often complain about South African racehorses not being allowed quick and easy travel to foreign destinations, but suddenly we are feeling a bit stunned by the news that no fewer than 11 of our top gallopers were whisked away to the US last week.

Local racing fans face a Champions Season in KwaZulu-Natal of diminished quality but will be consoled by the knowledge that the “Super 11” are on a mission to bring pride and glory to their homeland.

You’d like to think the likes of Princess Calla, Beach Bomb and Bless My Stars will do well Stateside.

Most of the horses flown out from Johannesburg to New York on a chartered Boeing 747 are being aimed at the US’s Breeders’ Cup race meeting to be held at Del Mar racecourse in San Diego, California, in November.

‘World Championships’

The Breeders’ Cup is marketed as the “World Championships” of horse racing and regularly attracts strong participation from top European stables and some entries from Japan and South America.

To encourage visiting stars to the annual two-day extravaganza on both turf and dirt surfaces, a few years back the operators introduced a “Win and You’re In” series of races in eight countries around the world, including South Africa.

The Grade 1 Cartier Paddock Stakes at Kenilworth is among these golden ticket events but factors such as costs and absurdly onerous export protocols have tended to stymy South African participation in the past.

But, as soon as three-year-old prodigy Beach Bomb won the 2024 running of the Paddock for trainer Candice Bass-Robinson in January it flashed green for a wildly ambitious raid on California.

Beach Bomb’s owner and breeder Gaynor Rupert had been champing at the bit, so to speak, to get South Africa’s best thoroughbreds competing internationally and a guaranteed place in the $2-million (R38-million) BC Fillies & Mares Turf over 2200m was the clincher for a plan she, local breeding supremo Robin Bruss and American racing man Barry Irwin had been putting together.

Drakenstein group

Rupert – whose Drakenstein Stud in the Winelands is the reigning national champion breeder – added four more talented fillies to the export consignment and sundry other owners were asked if they’d like to join the party.

The Drakenstein group is Beach Bomb (a dual Grade 1 winner and runner-up in the Cape Derby), Golden Hostess (Grade 3 win and four Grade 1 places), Distant Winter (Grade 3 win, Grade 1 place), Hunting Trip and Coldhardstare.

Irwin’s Team Valor has purchased four-year-old Bless My Stars (an Equus champ who was third in the Durban July) and her Joburg competitors Feather Boa and Egyptian Mau from their owners. Bless My Stars will go for the same race as Beach Bomb at Del Mar.

The prolific Hollywood ownership syndicate has pitched in the country’s joint top-rated sprinter Isivunguvungu, while Ridgemont Stud has dual Grade 1 winner Make It Snappy in the mix.
Equus Horse of the Year Princess Calla provides the cherry on the top.

Northfields Bloodstock kingpin Bruss commented: “The US export route allows South African horses to compete almost up to flight date, as Princess Calla did on Saturday and was in New York four days later.

“The difference lies between the EU stance of pre-travel quarantine and the US’s post arrival quarantine. South Africa is the eighth largest racing country in the world and established great success in the first decade of the 2000s winning Group 1 races on four continents. Exports have been severely constrained for the past 10 years whilst waiting for difficulties in the pre-travel quarantine system to be resolved.

“We are the ‘sleeper’ in world racing and we want to be back on the stage, win lose or draw. I pay tribute to Gaynor Rupert and Barry Irwin for their willingness to go the extra mile and make things happen and give thanks to the supporters of this venture, including Breeders Cup Ltd. We hope to make a splash in your country, the first of many – and will see on 1 November at Del Mar!”

By design, most of the exports are females. They are all likely to go on to stud careers in the US – hopefully furthering burnishing the reputation of South African bloodlines.

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