By Robyn Louw

When people compliment my writing, I’m in the habit of explaining (because it’s true) that I’m only as good as my subject. Therefore I am so very lucky to write, firstly about racing people and, more specifically about South African racing people. Thanks to the weather, politics, economy, etc., being South African means a mountain of obstacles to climb on a daily basis, but climb we must, so climb we do and think nothing of it in the process. It can make trying to explain it to other people so difficult, because most of the time I’m sitting back wondering how the hell we manage to do anything.

Africa, This Is Why I Live Here

South Africans don’t get a lot handed to us on a plate and the odds may be stacked against us, but that’s OK. We’re used to making a plan with what we’ve got and have become adept at stretching it with a bit of old-fashioned elbow grease. So if we decide to tackle something, we’ll throw in the kitchen sink, the plug, the plunger, the plumbing and all the fittings with it. There are no half measures.

It’s what makes us the first at track work and the last to leave, and most of all, to be grateful for every break that does come our way, because we know what it’s like to do without.

Being permanently dialled up full throttle can become a habit and South Africans can be a little noisy and intense to be around, which means we are an acquired taste, but it’s also what makes us so interesting to be around.


Given our tumultuous history, South Africans are well acquainted with hope. It’s our stock in trade. And every little success gives us a little courage and a little hope to try again.

And you have to be careful of hope.

It is a universal currency that makes you look beyond the obvious. It makes you get up earlier, stay up later, try a little harder and makes the little guy take on the big guy – and occasionally bloody his nose.

Which brings me neatly to Singapore Sling, the SA-bred, trained and ridden galloper that stormed to victory in the Classic Cup and has captured public imagination ahead of this year’s Hong Kong Derby.

Proudly South African

Drakenstein Stud Farm’s Gaynor Rupert (Photo Credit: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Singapore Sling was bred and raised by Gaynor Rupert’s Drakenstein Stud Farm on the gracious slopes of the Franchhoek mountains. As befits an iconic farm, Drakenstein stood an iconic stallion in South African superstar Horse Chestnut, alongside Florida champion Trippi. With the help of local ‘pedigree expert extraordinaire’ Charles Faull and Joe Brocklebank from Gardiner Farms in Canada, Mrs Rupert supplemented the stallion barn with the addition of Philanthropist in 2012 and Singapore Sling was produced from his first local crop.

The Proof Of The Pudding

It’s always been Gaynor’s goal and belief that one can breed international class horses from our South African base and there are a number of examples to prove we have the credentials. However, you can argue the case a million times, but to prove it, out on the track where it really counts – that’s a whole different thing altogether.

“I am absolutely delighted that Singapore Sling has done so well in Hong Kong especially as Mark Richards and Nick Columb from the HKJC were in Cape Town for our Yearling Sales in January. We don’t get many opportunities to showcase our horses to the world because of our quarantine issues, so we are extremely grateful to those who come out to South Africa to buy them and are prepared to go the arduous route to get them to the racetrack in another jurisdiction. We sold Singapore Sling for R225k ($HK147k) which goes to show the value of our horses.”

Journey So Far

Multiple SA Champion trainer, Geoff Woodruff (Photo Credit: hamishNIVENPhotography)

The colt, offered as part of the Drakenstein Stud sales draft at the 2015 CTS Premier Sale, caught the eye of celebrated local trainer Geoff Woodruff (brother in law to Tony Millard), who purchased him for David and Tiaan Shawe.

Asked what he’d liked about the young horse, Geoff says, “When looking at yearlings, we have this expression, ‘use your imagination’. You have to look at a yearling and imagine what it’s going to be and from that perspective, he was easy to like. I didn’t know anything about Philanthropist then – it was his first crop, so at that stage, none of us did, I very much liked Singapore Sling’s female line and thought he was a nice specimen. I actually bought him on spec, but no sooner had I signed than the phone rang and it was David asking ‘who’d you buy that for?’ I explained that I’d bought him on spec and David said if you don’t mind, I’d like to take him. I said of course, no problem and it was as simple as that, really.”

“He was a very nice 2yo,” remembers Geoff, “Although he wasn’t the easiest of characters. It took a while, but once we got inside his head, he was a lovely horse to work with. He was tough and sound and we never had an issue with him.”

“When he won over 1200m at Turffontein, we were expectant and he didn’t let us down. He had some traffic issues at his second start, but I thought he ran very well. At his third start, he finished 3rd in the Graham Beck. I was unsure whether to enter for the Dingaans, but actually the late, great Tiaan (David’s partner) virtually convinced me and I thought, ‘what the heck’. As it turned out, he jumped from the 9 draw. Chase Maujean probably rode one of the best races of his life and suddenly they were 5th, one off the fence with every chance of winning, which is what you want at Turffontein and he duly delivered.”

“It was Summer Cup day and we had a great day and an even greater party that night.” (2016 saw Geoff win the Summer Cup for the 4th year in a row). Sadly, Tiaan died in a road accident shortly afterwards, casting a pall over the day’s achievement.

After the Dingaans win, Geoff travelled his string to Cape Town for the summer season. Despite the yard having to contend with persistent viruses that season, Singapore Sling finished 4.6 lengths behind William Longsword (now at stud) over 1600m in the Cape Guineas and only 1.8 lengths off him in the CTS Mile on Sun Met day 2017. It was to be his last start in South Africa.

Reluctant Sale

“He was noticed,” grimaces Geoff. “Tony has spotters that look for a likely 3yo and when we ran 3rd to William Longsword in the CTS Mile it was pretty obvious that it was a) a very good crop and b) he may be buyable because at the time it just was that way and the offer was right, unfortunately. I never want to see a good horse leave my stable, but it was logistically the right thing to do. It pays for a great deal that comes before and a great deal that comes after.” Geoff is a consummate professional and his tone is light, but one can tell it stings.

“I think I probably speak for every trainer in the country when I say that if we could have a fair quarantine protocol to race overseas we’d be doing it an awful lot more. I’d have loved to have a dip at a R15 or R16 million race with Singapore Sling – nothing would have made me happier. It’s just so absolutely iniquitous this whole thing, that quite frankly we’re compromised to the point where you’ve virtually got to sacrifice a whole year of a horse’s career to give it one race overseas.”

“While I’m very, very keen the protocol for racing overseas gets reformed, I’m so keen to see our stake money become realistic so that an owner doesn’t feel obliged to send a good horse overseas, or even worse, sell it overseas.”

“Unfortunately our stake money cannot justify not accepting a good offer from abroad, because it would be hard if not most unlikely that you would ever win that kind of money here. If you don’t need it, fine, but for the vast majority of owners, the temptation is too great.”

“You need to get a proper bang for your buck here. Excellence needs to be rewarded. We have a R1 million Guineas in SA and a R15 million Classic Cup in Hong Kong and I think the Guineas is probably a stronger race – are we 15 times behind Hong Kong when it comes to prize money?” he muses.

“This is a nice horse. And he would be nice horse in Hong Kong and elsewhere, but he’s an equally nice horse in South Africa. I would like people from Hong Kong and elsewhere to come here knowing that they may have to compete with us local trainers for serious money, but until we have proper prize money, then these horses are going to be forever destined to go overseas,” he says sadly.

Stamina question

Watching his former charge blaze an international trail causes mixed emotions. “I need horses like that here, not in Hong Kong,” he says only half joking. “I had aspirations for him to win the July for me this year and to watch him turning into the horse I always thought he was, it’s bitter sweet, you know?” he says in his careful manner.

“I thought Chad rode him beautifully in the Classic Cup. A good draw always helps, but it was a perfect ride. You don’t fight him and make sure he’s settled just behind a decent pace and he’ll do everything you ask. His stamina will increase the older he gets and I’m absolutely certain he will only improve. I cannot see another furlong worrying him the way he won the Classic Cup.”

Chad Schofield

Chad Schofield’s meteoric record speaks for itself, but the meteor is being rounded off and polished with experience and maturity. The fierce competitive streak is being matched by patience and gamesmanship and when he hits that groove it is deadly, as evidenced by his 4-timer on Classic Cup day.

Chad has worked Singapore Sling since he arrived in Hong Kong, but admits to being unimpressed by him initially. “He was a real handful. He would pull really hard, he’d whip around, spook at things – he really wasn’t a pleasant horse to ride at all and I didn’t have much opinion of him, to tell you the truth.”

But he soon had to rethink. “I didn’t ride him the day he debuted over 1400m and he surprised me and ran quite well to finished 5th or 6th. At his next start, he won at Happy Valley over 1650m. I never rode him that time either, but he really surged over the last 200m. I thought ‘geez, he’ really turned the corner.”

Being retained by John Moore, Singapore Sling’s regular rider Tommy Berry was unable to keep the ride and when the horse became available, Chad picked him up.

“At his next start, he finished 2nd in the Classic Mile for me, behind Nothingilikemore,” he continues. “To be beaten a length by him was a really good run. He improved again since then to his last start where he really dominated and he’s drawn perfectly in barrier 3 and is a deserved favourite for the Derby.”

Derby Hopes

“In Hong Kong, if you asked anyone what race they’d like to win most, I’m pretty sure most would say the Derby,” says Chad in his thoughtful manner. “ It’s THE race to win and the most prestigious. To win the Derby in my third year would set me up. I’m so lucky to have a horse like Singapore Sling heading into it. It’s exciting times!”

It is all the more special because of all those South African ties that bind. “Mr Millard actually gave me my first winner in Hong Kong on my first meeting and he’s been my biggest supporter since I arrived. I’m now in my 3rd year and the support is still there for me, so I’ve got much to thank him for. Him and I date back to when my dad was riding here. It’s funny how it all works out. Bev used to drive me to school every day as a 9 year old kid – now I’m riding winners for them and big winners too. It’s pretty special.”

“I’ve also got to give South African horses a push. I’ve only ridden two here and both have given me some of my biggest wins in Hong Kong – Nassa in the Ladies Purse, who’s a beautiful horse and now Singapore Sling. They’re really good horses, and match it here with the very best in Hong Kong. It’s very strong and very high quality here.”

“It just makes it even more special that it’s for Mr Millard and Mr Robert Ng, who is a lovely man and very passionate about his racing. I’m in a very good position at the moment.”

Waking Up Running

There is a great tale that every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle: when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.

Racing is a little like that too. Horses don’t know how they are bred, what they cost or who trains them. When the gates open, all bets are off. Anything can happen. That’s what makes it so exciting.

Our horses and our people face incredible obstacles for the privilege of doing what they believe in, but overcoming challenges is simply part and parcel of life out here. It’s what makes us who and what we are. But it means we sometimes take for granted just how incredible our people – and our horses – are to do what they do. Win, lose or draw, we are incredibly proud of all them. And we should probably say that a little more often.