Hall Of Fame | Horse Chestnut

The 2022/23 Cape Summer racing season discussion has been largely dominated by one horse. The three-year-old colt Charles Dickens has been favourably compared to some of the greats of South African turf, notably Sea Cottage and Horse Chestnut.
Sea Cottage won 20 of his 24 races in the 1960s, while Horse Chestnut won eight of his nine races before being exported to the US. Charles Dickens meanwhile has won six of his seven races and gets a chance to further cement his reputation in the Cape Derby at the end of February.

However, with the R2-million World Sports Betting Cape Town Met being run on Saturday 28th January, it’s pertinent that we have a look at Horse Chestnut, who won all of his six races as a three-year-old. This included four successive Grade Ones, with the 1999 J&B Met being the headliner.

Going into the prestigious contest, no three-year-old had won the Met for over 50 years, but Johannesburg trainer Mike de Kock decided to bring his horse to Cape Town to test him against the best of the older generation. 

What happened next is history – and hysteria.

As Classic Flag led home the best of the rest, a full eight lengths behind, race caller Jehan Malherbe’s voice rang out across Kenilworth: “This is true greatness! Horse Chestnut is killing them in the J&B Met!” 

Six weeks later he was back in Gauteng among his own age group and he won the SA Classic by 3.75 lengths.

Then, in April 1999, he won the SA Derby by nearly 10 lengths. Racing aficionados reckon this was the best performance of Horse Chestnut’s career. It was also his last start in South Africa.

Exported to the United States, he made his American debut on dirt (sand) in the Broward Handicap in January 2000. Again he showed his incredible turn of foot to win by over five lengths. Tragically, his racing career was cut short when he suffered an injury, and he was sent to stud in the US. But he was a son of the African soil and in 2009 he returned home, and stood at the magnificent Drakenstein Stud. News of his death, at the age of 19 in 2015, saddened the equine fraternity.

He remains one of the true South African greats and whenever the Cape Town Met is raced, Horse Chestnut’s 1999 romp (pictured above) is always remembered with the fondest memories. – Gary Lemke

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