Eric Sands’ expertise as a trainer was highlighted by his win on Saturday in the Grade 1 Asian Racing Conference Commemorative Derby with Golden Ducat, who couldn’t be sold as a youngster due to a serious hock injury and might not have existed at all if Sands had not managed to nurture his mother Halfway To Heaven into a stakes performer after she had survived a number of incidents as a youngster.
Halfway To Heaven has now achieved the phenomenal feat of producing three Grade 1 winners with her first three runners.
Golden Ducat’s half-brothers are no ordinary Grade 1 winners, they being Rainbow Bridge, (Ideal World) and Hawwaam (Silvano), who need no introduction.
Sands’ biggest thank you after the race was reserved for Halfway To Heaven and in referring to her three Grade 1 winners from three runners he said, “When I was a kid my father was with George Azzie and Hawaii was there. He was out of Ethane who also produced William Penn. But I have never seen this before. I don’t know if it has been done before and I don’t know if it will be done again. She is phenomenal.”
Golden Ducat became his sire Philanthropist’s first South African-bred Grade 1 winner, although he did produce a Grade 1 winner in Canada before being imported to stand at Drakenstein Stud.
Rainbow Bridge, Hawwaam and Golden Ducat were all bred by Wilgerbosdrift and Mauritzfontein Studs.
Craig Zackey rode a faultless race on Saturday to record his third Grade 1 win of the season. His previous two also came at Kenilworth, both for Adam Marcus. It was an eighth career Grade 1 for 25-year-old Zackey.
Golden Ducat lined up as the joint lowest rated horse in the field on a merit rating of 89 but, with just four previous races under his belt, had not yet had a chance to prove himself.
Sands believed the tall bay had run “way above” his merit rating in his previous start over 1500m which was “far short of his trip.”
He also pointed out he himself had won a Cape Derby before by avoiding features with an immature horse, although he was likely referring to Money Bags, who crossed the line first in 2006 but was later demoted after an objection.
Sands had previously won the Cape Derby with Jungle Warrior in 1988 and Grande Jete in 2001.
Zackey’s confidence was boosted on the way to post.
“He’s a big strapping fella with a huge action and knowing how Hawwaam and Rainbow Bridge get the ten furlongs I said to myself he is going to get it even better.”
Zackey, after jumping from draw two, settled him in the perfect position in midfield one out with cover alongside the favourite Silver Host.
The good pace suited the big gelding, as he was able to stride out throughout. He had plenty in the tank turning for home and produced a sustained finish to overtake and beat Sachdev by half-a-length.
Zackey is sponsored by Wilgerbosdrift and Mauritzfontein Stud. He had won a Grade 1 before in the colours of Jessica Jell’s Mauritzfontein Stud and on Saturday achieved the double he had longed for by winning a Grade 1 in the colours of Mary Slack’s Wilgerbosdrift Stud.
His association with the current champion breeders started around 2015 when he stuck with a filly called Nother Russia, who was so temperamental nobody wanted to ride her. Zackey spent hours of his spare time helping “horse whisperer” Malan du Toit school her as well as “showing her a lot of love”. One day her grateful owner and breeder, Jessica Slack, now Jell, said to him, “This is your filly until the end of her career.”
Jessica was true to her word and the Mike de Kock-trained filly won eight races under Zackey, including the Grade 1 Empress Club Stakes.
Zackey believes there is a lot more to come from Golden Ducat, describing him after Saturday’s race as a big baby who was still learning.
“The day he puts his head down and puts it all in you’re going to see a really good horse.”
Sands applauded Zackey for his ride and showed considerable emotion when thanking Mary Slack.
Golden Ducat was gelded in November last year after starting to become “a bit impossible”.
His mother had temperament issues too, as do both Rainbow Bridge and Hawwaam.
Gavin Walker, the former owner of Bush Hill Stud, bred Halfway To Heaven.
As a youngster she knocked herself out one day by running headlong in to a pole. She then survived a flood and she later cut herself badly on barb wire when escaping into a vineyard.
That all happened before being sent to Lisa Humby to be backed,
She was then went to Sands, where sore shins initially plagued her.
She was also nervous and “quite dangerous” and reportedly put two Sands’ stable employees in hospital.
However, with veterinary help for her shins she was able to win six races for Sands, including the Grade 3 Prix du Cap over 1400m.
She was then sold by Walker to Mary Slack and won the Listed Off To Stud Handicap over 1800m for Mike de Kock shortly before being retired to stud.
Walker had bought Halfway To Heaven’s grandam Our Elegant Girl on instinct when watching her antics at Scottsville one day. Her rider had fallen off on the way to the start and, astonishingly, she stopped, turned around and allowed him to remount, an unheard of happening in thoroughbred racing.
Halfway To Heaven is in-bred 3×3 to Northern Dancer through Jet Master and Rambo Dancer.
She should go on to smash more records as she has two more Silvano’s on the ground, a filly and a colt, as well as a Querari filly.
By David Thiselton