Fond memories of the great Sea Cottage
JULY Fever is well and truly kicking in and the public will start finalising their selections after the Vodacom Durban July gallops today. However, exactly fifty years ago one horse was dominating the headlines as well as the family thoughts in the household of record breaking trainer Syd Laird.
Syd’s son Alec does not have many recollections of Sea Cottage’s famous dead-heat with Jollify in 1967, but does recall his father became increasingly difficult to live with in the two or three weeks approaching any July day.
Only the race could relieve the tension, but in 1967 the agony was prolonged as the judges attempted to separate Sea Cottage and Jollify.
In the race Jollify, carrying 100lbs (45.3kg), had sat behind the leader Balaclava and coming off the narrow false rail jockey John Gorton shot him into the lead. Sea Cottage, carrying 127 lbs (57.6kg), had been hooked towards the outside for his run by Robbie Sivewright and still had a mountain to climb.
However, the idol of the public had his eyes on the leader, who was towards the inside, and the crowd roared as he wound up into his famous finishing run.
It is the natural tendency of a racehorse to hang towards the horse he is chasing, but Sea Cottage first had to get around King Willow and Red Sands who were making their runs down the centre.
After he had completed that task there was less than 200 metres left and Sea Cottage began eating up the ground with his enormous stride.
However, the disappointment could be heard in commentator Ernie Duffield’s voice when he said, “I think Jollify has held on.” However, the muted crowd were soon rapturous when a dead-heat was announced.
The great horse had done it. Sea Cottage still had a bullet lodged in his hindquarters.
He had been shot three weeks before the previous year’s July, but still ran in that race and finished a gallant fourth.
Six-year-old Alec was actually on course for the 1967 Julye and as there was no room in the owners and trainers enclosure during the race, he had to stand on an adjoining wall.
Sea Cottage was the first Summerveldtrained horse to win the July.
The training centre had been opened at the beginning of that same season. Alec remembers Summwerveld being barren back in those days.
His mother Marlene planted the trees which now tower over Syd Laird’s former yard, which is now used by Alistair Gordon.
Alec also remembers visitors always wanting to see one particular horse, Sea Cottage.
Alec has better memories of Syd’s 1971 July winner Mazarin.
His father often said, “Sea Cottage was the best I trained but Mazarin was the best three-year-old.”
Mazarin’s owners Eric and Fane Tenderini were so confident of victory in 1971 they had booked out a venue in the Edward Hotel for a celebratory party and a massive cake made in Mazarin’s red and white colours awaited the guests.
He duly won by a comfortable 3,25 lengths in record time.
Mazarin had a downturn in form as a four-year-old, but the Tenderini’s refused Syd permission to apply blinkers.
Their reasoning was that in the UK at the time horses who wore blinkers were considered “rogues”, so any potential stallion would never be seen in them.
Syd’s record-breaking seventh July victory was with the great Politician in 1978. Alec’s outstanding memory of that year was when an announcement was made shortly before the start that Welcome Boy had replaced Politician as favourite. Syd nudged Alec and said, “I will have to do something about that” and walked over to put more money on Politician.
The July was a huge part of the Laird household’s lives. Alec viewed winning it as his most important goal after he had taken over the yard when Syd passed away suddenly in 1988.
He only had to wait until 1996, when London News won for owners Laurie and Jean Jaffee.
History repeated itself as the Jaffees has also booked out The Edward for a celebratory party.
The Jaffees also booked a venue in one of Hong Kong’s leading hotels, The Peninsula, before London News won the Gr 1 QE II Cup the following year, although Alec believes they likely had a cancellation clause.
Alec’s best chance of winning the July recently has been with last year’s runaway J&B Met winner Smart Call, but she headed overseas instead.
However, he still has his eyes very much set on a second July win in the future.