The first four horseracing superstars to be inducted into the SA Hall Of Fame are:
• Sea Cottage (horse)
• Michael Roberts (jockey)
• Syd Laird (trainer)
• Harry and Bridget Oppenheimer (owners)
The inductees were announced in Cape Town at Wednesday’s barrier draw for the Sun Met Celebrated with G.H. Mumm after a selection process – including a public vote – involving lists of nominees in each racing sector.
Sea Cottage captured the public imagination with his amazing finishing speed in the late 1960s. Trained by fellow Hall Of Famer Laird, the colt won 20 of 24 races, including the Durban July, two Queen’s Plates, two Clairwood Winters and a Champion Stakes.
His sensational shooting – on Blue Lagoon beach by a gangster, with the collaboration of a bookmaker – shortly before the 1966 July sealed his legend.
Sea Cottage was fourth in the July that year and returned to famously dead-heat with Jollify in 1967 – with the bullet still in his rump.
That was one of seven July victories for Laird, the foremost conditioner of his day and one of the most celebrated of all time.
Laird’s other July winners were Kerason, Colorado King, Java Head, Mazarin, Politican and Yataghan.
Roberts won the SA jockey championship as an apprentice, then claimed 10 more titles in the 1970s before heading to the UK and winning the championship there.
He took the Group 1 Eclipse Stakes twice on Mtoto and also won France’s Prix Royal Oak, Italy’s Prima Roma and the Japan Cup. In 1997 he won his only Durban July on Super Quality.
The Oppenheimer name was synonymous with racing for decades, with Anglo-American’s billionaire boss Harry and wife Bridget breeding and racing scores of brilliant horses.
Their stars included Horse Chestnut, King Willow, Tiger Fish, Bodrum and Cherry On The Top.
The 17 nominees who missed out on the Hall Of Fame this time around will get further chances in future – as will other racing heroes that might be nominated for the honour.