SA Racing’s Flying Springboks Touch Down In New York!

On Thursday 7 March 2024 a chartered Boeing 747 flight carrying a valuable cargo of 11 thoroughbreds – five of them Gr1 Winners – touched down at JFK Airport in New York following a direct flight from Johannesburg with a refuel stop in Barbados en route.

Shipper Gerard Connolly readies to take off on the incredible journey

It was the first direct export flight from South Africa since 2003 and was orchestrated by a small group of dedicated men and women determined to take South Africa from its current domestic isolation into the broader world.

Having achieved both Champion Owner and Breeder status with her Drakenstein Stud in 2023, Gaynor Rupert and her Racing Manager Kevin Sommerville became interested in expanding the reach of South Africa and entered discussions with Robin Bruss of Northfields Bloodstock to see what could be done about the direct export status to the USA.

Gerard Connolly in the equine ‘business class’

Bruss and Barry Irwin’s Team Valor International had stood behind the last chartered flight directly to the USA way back in 2003, more than 20 years ago and had enjoyed good success globally with South African horses.

SA’s best on world stage:

All of Gypsys Warning (SAF) won the Matriach S. Gr.1, Crimson Palace (SAF) won the Beverly D S. Gr.1, Iridescence (SAF) won the Queen Elizabeth II S. Gr.1 and Ipi Tombe (ZIM) won the Dubai Duty Free Gr.1.

The South Africans vanning from JFK to the USDA Quarantine Station to start their 60 day’s post-arrival quarantine

Together with Shipping Agent Gerard Connolly of CTB Forwarding Pty Ltd., and Mersant International New York, the group planned a meticulous strategy to get some of the best South African horses to the USA with a view to campaigning them into the Breeders Cup World Championship taking place at Del Mar Racecourse in California on 1 and 2 November 2024.

When Drakenstein’s homebred filly BEACH BOMB (Lancaster Bomber-Beach Beauty) won the Cape Fillies Guineas Gr.1 in December and followed up to win the Cartier Paddock S. Gr.1, a Breeders Cup designated ‘win and you’re in’ race, the stage was set down for the $2million (R38m) Breeders Cup Fillies & Mares Turf Gr.1 over 2200m.

Gaynor then added four other fillies to the flight GOLDEN HOSTESS (Gr.3 Winner and four times Gr.1 placed), DISTANT WINTER (Gr.3 Winner and 3rd Thekwini Fillies S. Gr.1), HUNTING TRIP and Gr3 placed COLDHARDSTARE.

Gr1 winner Bless My Stars and fellow traveller, Feather Boa (Pic – Candiese Lenferna)

Barry Irwin’s Team Valor International bought Equus Champion 3 Year Old Filly BLESS MY STARS (Gimmethegreenlight-Star Express) winner of the 2023 SA Fillies Classic Gr.1, in a partnership with Gary Barber and Anant & Vanashree Singh. She will also aim for the Breeders Cup Fillies & Mares Turf Gr.1.

He also added FEATHER BOA (won 2023 Jhb Spring Challenge Gr.2, and 2nd by a nose to Bless My Stars in the SA Classic Gr.1) and EGYPTIAN MAU (won Princess Charlene Starling S. Gr.3 and 2nd in the Thekwini Fillies Championship Gr.1 for 2yo.)

The group invited other top owners to participate.

The Hollywood Syndicate booked in 2023 Equus Champion Sprinter, dual Gr.1 winner ISIVUNGUVUNGU (What a Winter – Miss Tweedy) who will aim for the $1m (R19m) Breeders Cup Turf Sprint Gr.1 over 1000m.

Isivunguvungu. Image: Candiese Lenferna

Ridgemont Stud added dual Gr.1 winner MAKE IT SNAPPY (Dynasty-Icy Winter) who won the 2022 Cape Fillies Guineas Gr.1 and the Paddock S. Gr.1. Early plans are to mate her to one of the world’s great stallions in Kentucky.

Princess Calla and Shipper Gerard Connolly in his hygiene jump suit at entrance of USDA quarantine facility in New York

The final booking came from Mario Ferreira’s reigning Horse of the Year, PRINCESS CALLA, (Flower Alley-Platinum Princess), Queen of the Turf in South Africa, winner of 12 races, 11 of them Graded Stakes, including five Gr.1 wins amongst them the 2023 HKJC Champions Cup Gr.1 over 1800m defeating the colts, and more recently the Majorca S. Gr.1 by 3,5 lengths.

Princess Calla has the options of the $1m (R19m) Breeders Cup Fillies & Mares Sprint over 1200m or the $2m (R38m) Breeders Cup Turf Gr.1 over 1600m against the colts.

Richard Fourie cruises home aboard Princess Calla. Image: Candiese Lenferna

Post arrival quarantine will be 60 days in New York after which the horses will likely start training at Saratoga and commence their prep.

Reactions to the groundbreaking conquest:

Breeders Cup’s Josh Christian:

“We are thrilled that the South African horses have arrived in New York on their way to the Breeders Cup World Championships!  None of this would be possible without the help and support of Gaynor Rupert, Barry Irwin, Kevin Sommerville, Robin Bruss and Gerard Connolly.  We are looking forward to seeing them at Del Mar in November and having the best from South Africa, Asia, Europe and the America’s will make the Breeders Cup a true World Championship.”

Chairman TBA of SA, Bradley Ralph:

“South African thoroughbred racing and breeding counts itself as fortunate to have had the support of Team Valor International’s Barry Irwin. After two decades, this flight of hope, Breedes Cup dreams and champion fillies directly to New York represents a watershed moment for our industry.  Congratulations and thank you B Eye for looking this far south again.”

Cape Racing’s Executive, Racing & Bloodstock, Justin Vermaak

“The arrival of this talented group of horses into the USA is a watershed moment for South African Racing and Breeding.  This group of horses should be more than capable of performing at the very top level in the USA. When they do we can expect a global renewal of the demand for the South African thoroughbred.  Robin Bruss has been at the forefront of the South African bloodstock industry for many decades and it is fitting that he should achieve this breakthrough thanks to his dedication, expertise, and relentless passion.  These characteristics earn him support from global industry leaders, no less so Barry Irwin and Gaynor Rupert, who have placed their support behind this venture. Without them it would not have been possible.”

Team Valor’s Barry Irwin:

“It has been meaningful to get this over the line since it is 20 years+ since the last time Robin and I did it.  I hope that the results are just as successful.  It would have been nice if the enterprise received a bit more support from key players. But as the old saying goes, TISAB !This is South Africa, baby!”

SA Equine Health & Protocol’s Adrian Todd:

“The fact that Robin has managed to co-ordinate a flight using the USA protocol of direct export with post quarantine arrival is wonderful news. SAEHP has consulted closely with Robin on technical matters pertaining to this route and continues to move forward to the end goal of multi-faceted export routes out of South Africa.”

Northfields Bloodstock’s Robin Bruss:

“The USA export route allows South African horses to compete almost up to flight date as Horse of the Year Princess Calla did on Saturday and was in New York four days later. The difference lies between the EU stance of pre-travel quarantine and USA’s post arrival quarantine.  South Africa is the 8th largest racing country in the world and established great success in the first decade of the 2000s winning Gr.1 races on four continents. Exports have been severely constrained for the past 10 years whilst waiting for difficulties in the pre travel quarantine system to be resolved.  We are the sleeper in world racing, and we want to be back on the stage, win lose or draw. I pay tribute to Gaynor Rupert and Barry Irwin for their willingness to go the extra mile and make things happen and give thanks to the supporters of this venture including Breeders Cup Ltd.  We hope to make a splash in your country, the first of many – and will see on 1 November at Del Mar !”

Shipper Gerard Connolly:

“A dream delayed is not a dream denied! I believe the last direct shipment of horses from SA to the USA was in 1993, and I’ve been working on this since I began in the industry. It was surreal flying into New York with our most precious cargo, and then seeing how well they had travelled, as they took their first steps on US soil. I would like to thank our clients and everyone in the industry who trusted and supported us in this historic endeavour!”