A lunch over a couple of bottles of wine has turned into a dream come true for Durban racing enthusiast Michael Heron and friends who are looking forward to their charge Wealthy running in the eLan Gold Cup on Saturday.
Peter Gibson put the syndicate together and said, “This horse has effectively been given a second chance in life by his very sporting owner Robert Chung and the willingness of the current owners to take a chance.”
Michael was hosting a lunch at his house when Peter mentioned the opportunity of taking over the running costs of a well-bred horse who had talent but had a breathing issue which meant a wind operation was necessary.
Michael decided to take a ten percent share despite another of the lunch attendees being advised by his veterinarian brother to not take the risk.
Wealthy, now a six-year-old, has always been rated by trainer Dennis Drier. As a three-year-old the Silvano gelding was sent down to Cape Town with the aim of running in the big stayers race on Sun Met day and from there the plan was to send him to Mike de Kock’s yard in Dubai.
Unfortunately for Chung, the handsome bay developed a breathing issue while in Cape Town.
Chung, in his experience of owning over fifty horses, did not wish to persevere but hoped Wealthy would find a good home.
Instead a successful wind operation was performed by Dr Johnny Cave of Baker and McVeigh Equine Hospital.
Peter said, “When you watch him gallop you cannot hear a thing he is now so clean winded.”
As Peter put the partnership together Michael’s hopes were buoyed when Tony Dickinson took a share.
He said, “Tony has a reputation for being a very lucky man.”
He recounted a quote from well-known KZN racing owner Grant Cornwall, who said, “If Tony was forced to use a long drop he would emerge with a rolex.”
Previous Gold Cup-winning owner Sean Singleton also joined the partnership, so if Wealthy does win on Saturday a rendition of the “woer-woer masjien” warcry, made famous by Hermoso Mundo’s win two years ago, will ring out from the winner’s enclosure.
The syndicate was completed when shares were taken by Marcus Nel, Dean Hayman and Gill Drier.
Wealthy was reported well by Peter and Michael who watched him working at Summerveld yesterday.
He booked his place in the Gold Cup through an impressive performance in the DSTv Gold Vase over 3000m on Vodacom Durban July day, charging through from last in the running for a 1,90 length fourth, and but for a couple of traffic problems he might have finished closer.
Michael’s awareness of racing began at school when two of his best friends, in an accountancy project, chose horseracing as their “business”.
“It went bankrupt!” he recalled.
Michael was a useful left arm spinner and after school played club cricket in KZN’s first league which had a culture of horseracing lovers.
He remembered always being put on the boundary when not bowling as he was a “bad fielder” but in afternoon sessions he was often replaced for an over or two by teammates who wished to listen to racing commentaries.
His interest in the Sport Of Kings blossomed while based in London on a year of travel.
On Epsom Derby day one of his travelling companions wandered over to the local bookmaker and patriotically put two pounds eachway on Michael Roberts’ mount Terimon. To this day Terimon remains the highest priced horse, at 500/1 odds, to ever place in the Derby, so the usually skint travellers were able to attend Royal Ascot a couple of weeks later.
Michael said, “I remember Warning winning (the Queen Anne Stakes) and it was regarded as the best performance over a mile since 1948.”
A couple of weeks later they caught the train to Sandown and watched Derby winner Nashwan winning the Coral Eclipse.
Back in South Africa Michael never missed a July or Gold Cup meeting and with a runner in this year’s premier staying event has been pinching himself this week.
Peter, like many racing purists, also loves the Gold Cup meeting, particularly as it brings back the memory of the David Payne-trained 1991 winner Icona. This USA-bred import, formerly trained by Sir Michael Stoute, had won a Listed race over a mile and two furlongs on the Rowley Mile at Newmarket and Peter preached it for weeks in the build up to the Gold Cup, despite the naysayers believing he could not win with topweight. A party to remember followed one of Peter’s biggest ever punting successes.
Wealthy has a habit of winning when the stakes are at their biggest. His three wins for the current owners include two Chapter Challenge finals and the Listed Michael Roberts Handicap.
He is currently quoted at 33/1 by Track and Ball but and carrying a nice galloping weight of 54kg and as one who clearly relished the distance last time he is one of the race’s dark horses. He gets on well with stable jockey Sean Veale and victory will spark a celebration of epic proportions up in the grandstand suites.
By David Thiselton