by Mark Anthony

The exploits of flying filly National Colour have put the sprinters firmly back in the public eye and it is with this in mind that Horsing Around pays tribute this week to one of South Africa`s great speed merchants, Harry Hotspur.

A chestnut of eye-catching beauty, Harry Hotspur`s career was marred by unsoundness and hence his race record only gives a fractional glimpse of his brilliance. That record is more than impressive: 9 wins and a second from just 11 starts. The second place came at the hooves of the great Sentinel and his sole unplaced run can be ignored as he failed to stay in the Cape Guineas.

Harry Hotspur`s family is packed with black type. His father, British-bred Mexico II also possessed ferocious speed, but unfortunately had to end his career prematurely due to contracting equine flu. He made his mark as a sire in South Africa as sire of top sprinters and the best-performed of his progeny was Smackeroo, whose impressive tally included 14 wins, among them the Gr 1 Gilbeys Stakes [Golden Horseshoe], Smirnoff Plate [Gold Medallion] and Natal Flying Championship [Mercury Sprint]. Other useful sorts that he produced included Foreign Agent, Peri-Peri, Crown Agent and top filly Marie Galante. Mexico II`s influence lives on as a top broodmare sire as well.

Harry Hotspur`s dam, Saturna was a daughter of Silver Tor who won one of Britain`s premier sprints, the King Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot. She turned out to be a very useful broodmare as all her progeny won at least one race, including 11-time winner Rotterdam, who, like Smackeroo, also won the Gilbeys and the Natal Flying Championship. One of her daughters, Pax Romana, was the dam of champion 3-year-old filly and triple Gr 1 winner, Kiss of Peace, as well as Port Elizabeth champion Magnolia King.

Winner of his sole juvenile start by 9 lengths, Harry Hotspur suffered his two defeats, mentioned above, during his 3-year-old season (4 wins from 6 starts). After his unplaced Guineas run, he won the Rupert Ellis Brown Plate, traditionally a marker for the country`s champion sprinter of that age group.

At age 4, Harry Hotspur only raced three times, winning all his starts including the Stewards Cup at Greyville. He beat two useful yardsticks here: Monastery won the big one, the Gilbeys Stakes, as well as the Cape Flying Championship and Durban Merchants. Abbey Boy was a triple winner of the Concord Stakes, that important weight-for-age dash around Greyville. Both these horses were consistently placed in most of the big sprint races of their era, so they offer a good line of form to judge Harry Hotspur.

Harry Hotspur was only destined to race once more: in the first month of his 5-year-old career, he scored his biggest win, touching off another Gilbeys winner, Brer Rabbit, whose other victories included the Gr1 Somerset Plate and Woolavngton Cup and lesser features such as the Drill Hall Stakes and Chairmans Stakes.

Hailed as the champion sprinter of his generation, Harry Hotspur`s frail legs finally caught up with him and he was retired to stud. What followed was a highly successful career as a stallion and over the next 18 years he was consistently among the most popular sires in the country.

In fact, Harry Hotspur was that rarest of creatures: a top South African-bred racehorse who went on to do well as a stallion. It is well-documented that most of our home-grown superstars on the track failed to really fire at stud, so he makes for a welcome exception.

Coincidentally or not, many of Harry Hotspur`s progeny also experienced problems in training, much like their father had. His youngsters were very precocious and it was a familiar sight to see them winning on debut or featuring among the champion juveniles of their year.

However, they often failed to maintain the same form as they got older, and one can speculate that this was because their early exertions eventually took a toll on them.

The precocity of his progeny also meant that his yearlings were highly sought after at the National Sales and particularly during the 1980s, he would usually feature among the top sires on the sales averages list.

The most spectacular of Harry Hotspur`s progeny was probably Tommy Hotspur, whose exploits should still be fresh in the memory of modern racegoers. Much like National Colour, Tommy Hotspur used to tear away in the early stages and in his prime, there wasn`t a horse in the country who could live with him. By the time he started to tire and his rivals started to get a look in, the race would be over.

Tommy Hotspur unfortunately resembled his father not just in terms of speed but also unsoundness and hence his career was a stop-start affair. Between August 1994 and December 1995, he reeled off 8 straight wins, but in March 1996 was finally caught when a close second in the Computaform Sprint. Laid off for seven months after that, he returned at the end of 1996 to win two of three starts including the 1997 Computaform Sprint. More problems surfaced and he had to be laid off for eight months. He returned at the end of 1997 to follow a similar campaign as the previous season but he was no longer the same horse and ended his career in the shadow of a new sprinting star: the great Golden Loom.

Another admirable son who did his father proud was Harry`s Echoe, who was still running the odd place at age 7, even though a shadow of his former self. In his prime, Harry`s Echoe was a formidable sprinter. He gave notice of his ability at age 3 when he slaughtered a good field of sprinters in the First Corp Sprint over Turffontein`s 1200 in late 1987. He then emulated his father by winning the 1988 Rupert Ellis Brown Plate at Clairwood to stamp himself champion sprinter of his age group.

The following season, it got even better. He crowned his career by winning the Gilbeys Stakes to go with wins in the Gilbeys Trial and Gordon Kirkpatrick Memorial and was narrowly touched off by Sloop in the Durban Merchants.

Although not as good in his latter years, he still turned in some perfectly respectable performances: another Gordon Kirkpatrick win to go with victories in the Concord Stakes and Chairmans Stakes as well as excellent seconds to two truly outstanding sprinters: Goldmark in the Gilbeys Stakes and Senor Santa in the Natal Flying Championship.

The wonderful Lord Randolph was another who added lustre to the Hotspur bloodline, winning 12 races and running a string of big-race second places. He is the only horse to have defeated the sprinting machine Sunera and he would have won even more races had he not been unlucky enough to bump into this British-bred filly in her prime.

The best filly Harry Hotspur produced was surely Harry`s Charm. Out of the useful Jungle Cove racemare Enchanting, Harry`s Charm gave early notice of her ability by winning the SA Nursery by nearly 7 lengths. During a career that yielded 10 wins and 7 places from 22 starts, she would capture the Star Sprint twice, while her other Gr 1 wins included the Allan Robertson Futurity and SA Fillies Sprint. This was supplemented by Gr 1 placed efforts in the Smirnoff Plate, Computaform Sprint and Gilbeys Stakes. Predictably, she lost some her sparkle towards the end of her career, but she had done more than enough to be considered one of South Africa`s best ever female sprinters.

Another name that will surely ring many bells among readers is Mysterious Hal, who won the 1992 Bloodline Million in the style of a really good horse. He was possibly the most ill-fated of Harry`s Hotspur`s sons in terms of failing to fulfil his career. He had to be laid off for a year after winning the Million, came back to win two races but broke down again a sad end to one of the most exciting sprinting prospects we have seen.

These were some of the more high-profile names among the Hotspur dynasty, but there were several other well-performed sprinters who flew the flag for their father, such as Bold Speed (9 wins) who was champion juvenile of his year.

Other prolific winners included Harry Flasher (11 wins), Alnwick, Algernon Percy, Dashing Hussar and The Dark Duke (10 each), Charming Harry, Water Kingdom and Super Magic (9) and Hamildon Hill (8). Each of these won at least one feature race.

Top Cape fillies Hot Corn and What A Beauty both enjoyed distinguished careers which saw them each win 12 races, while others of the fairer sex who fared well on the track included Old Rituals, Heat and Dust, Henrietta Fair and Lizanne (who in turn was mother of the very useful sprinter Simonside).

An odd footnote to the Harry Hotspur saga came in the form of his son Agitator and daughter Danseuse Classique. Considering that Harry Hotspur was very much a specialist producer of sprinters, it is strange to reflect that Agitator was second in the SA Derby (promoted to first) and won or was placed up to 3000m. The mystery clears up somewhat, though, when one notes that he shared the same dam as the great stayer Aquanaut. Danseuse Classique, meanwhile, won the Natal Oaks and was third in the Gold Cup, strange races to see a daughter of the great sprinter competing in.

Harry Hotspur`s final career statistics show him producing a highly respectable 67% winners-to-foals strike rate. His brilliance on the track and his consistency at stud have ensured him a secure niche in SA racing history and he will be remembered as a great servant of the sport in this country.

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