Farewell to a legend of the tracks
The colt was born in 1994 on the farm of Hugh Jonsson, who kept a few thoroughbred broodmares alongside the fresh produce in the lovely hills of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
Jonsson's mare, Jet Lightning, was mated with Rakeen, a blue-blood sire that fate had standing at a nearby stud farm. A gawky bay was the outcome.
With his strawberry fields needing capital investment, Jonsson consigned the weanling to a small horse sale in Pietermaritzburg. There he was spotted by a woman idly perusing horse boxes.
"I fell instantly in love," recalls Pat Devine. "He was knock-kneed and had no chest, but I didn't see that; to me he was the most beautiful creature I'd ever seen."
Husband Henry, a racehorse owner-breeder, wasn't so enamoured, but agreed to bid up to R10000 for the fellow. When the auction edged over that mark, Henry's hand stayed down.
In a moment of madness, Pat grabbed hubby's arm and thrust it upwards - and the colt was knocked down to the Devines for R15000. Henry was furious, but it was the best purchase he ever made.
He referred to "my wife's donkey" as several recruiting trainers later rejected the unprepossessing youngster. But legendary trainer Terrance Millard and his son Tony took the colt on, with the Devines retaining ownership.
After winning his first six races in a row, including the Cape Guineas, a serious breathing problem threatened to cut short a golden career. Two operations got him racing again. He won 17 races in all and became a legend.
At the horse's peak, Tony introduced a sheep named Sunday Roast to the stable to keep the big guy calm. The two animals became inseparable and travelled together to races all over the country.
Once, Sunday Roast got loose and took off down the Scottsville track after his pal as the champ headed to the start. The woolly one had to be caught and removed before the race could be won.
But it was at stud that the fellow achieved immortality.
He is simply the greatest South African-bred sire ever. His progeny have won hundreds of races, including 24 Grade 1s, and he's been Equus Champion Sire for the past five years.
Son Pocket Power won the Durban July and four Mets. Another son, JJ The Jet Plane, has won 14 times in four countries. The glory list goes on and on.
His fee to cover a mare rose from R12000 to peak at R200000.
The Devines received jaw-dropping offers for him, from all over the world.
"We couldn't sell him. If he'd belonged to someone else, it just wouldn't have been the same for us," says Pat.
Early on Monday morning, following an operation to fix degenerating vertebrae, the great horse died prematurely at the age of 17. Cause of death is still unknown.
The Devines are in mourning, and the racing world with them.
Goodbye Jet Master.
- VAAL, SUNDAY: PA - 7 x 8 x 2,5,7 x 1,3,6 x 6,10 x 5,7 x 7,11 (R72)
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