Picture: GETTY IMAGES/IAN FORSYTH
Picture: GETTY IMAGES/IAN FORSYTH

Simply The Best? No, the answer in this case is not singer Tina Turner. According to racing fans the best racehorse ever in SA was Sea Cottage and the best in the US was Secretariat.

In order to keep racing enthusiasts interested in the sport during lockdown, Snaith Racing staged a poll on the Sporting Post website asking: “Who was SA’s greatest racehorse of all time?”

Similarly, Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, last Saturday put on a virtual race matching the 13 winners of the Triple Crown. Created by Inspired Entertainment, the virtual race used data algorithms, including historical handicapping information, about each horse, which helped determine the probability of their potential finishing position.

In SA, Sea Cottage emerged the winner ahead of Mike de Kock’s star performer Horse Chestnut. Bookies might have made the latter a narrow favourite as his exploits were only two decades ago compared with Sea Cottage’s five.

Inducted into the SA Hall of Fame in 2019, Sea Cottage raced from 1964 to 1967, winning 20 of his 24 starts. His shooting before the 1966 Durban July provided one of the biggest post-war sporting sensations, yet he recovered and a few weeks later ran in the July, finishing fourth. He returned a year later to win SA’s most famous race.

Horse Chestnut carried the famous Oppenheimer colours to nine wins from 10 starts and his supporters will point to the fact that he won so many top races by wide margins.

Perhaps his greatest win came in the J&B Met, which he won by eight lengths. It did not matter to his legion of fans that he was a hot favourite (he started at 5-10) and even the car park attendants risked their pay on  De Kock’s champion.

Another wide-margin victory came in the SA Derby, which he won by eight lengths. After being exported to the US, he won the grade 3 Broward Handicap at Gulfstream Park by five lengths. Shortly afterwards he suffered an injury and was retired.

A case can definitely be made for another SA horse who went to the US — Hawaii — as a serious rival to both Sea Cottage and Horse Chestnut.

Hawaii was champion in each year he raced in SA and he continued his fine form in the US. In 1969 he won the 2,400m Man ’O War Stakes in course record time. The record stood until 1973 when bettered by none other than Secretariat.

In last Saturday’s virtual race at Churchill Downs, Secretariat cuts down the front-running Seattle Slew (Triple Crown winner in 1977), with Citation (1948 winner) filling second place and Seattle Slew in third.

The next three finishers were Affirmed (winner under jockey Steve Cauthen in 1978 and the first $2m earner in thoroughbred racing), American Pharoah (the winner in 2015 for trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza) and Whirlaway, who won the Triple Crown in 1941.

US expert Barry Irwin told Business Day last week that he believed Secretariat would come out on top so his forecast was correct.

The son of Bold Ruler, trained by Lucien Laurin and ridden by Ron Turcotte, won the Belmont Stakes by a staggering 31 lengths.