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Trainer David Payne, thoroughbred In Full Flight and jockey Raymond Rhodes are three of the greatest names in South African racing history and this year will mark the 50th anniversary of their Durban July win together, confounding the critics who said the big horse would not stay.
Payne has won every Grade 1 in SA, some of them multiple times, and eleven more in Australia and confirmed from his home in Sydney today, “I have trained many good horses, but In Full Flight was far superior to any of them. He was an absolute freak and could win a weight for age over 1000m or 2000m.”
In Full Flight catapulted Payne into an exclusive club of elites who have won the July as both jockey and trainer.
At age 24, he is also the youngest trainer to ever win SA’s premier race.
He recalled his first July win at age twenty aboard the Brian Cherry-trained five-year-old entire Chimboraa, “Herman Brown, who I was riding for at the time, believed Chimboraa could win the 1968 July and suggested I ask for the ride. They accepted but in his last preparation race he finished last. I was then offered the ride on Courtly, so I tried to get off Chimboraa but they wouldn’t let me … thank goodness! I thought he was a no-hoper but he ran handy and in the straight just kept on finding. It was a great feeling to win the July, it is every South African jockey’s dream.”
He recalled not hearing the roaring crowds in the finish as he was putting all his effort into keeping the 33/1 outsider going and held on by half-a-length from William Penn with hot favourite, the great George Azzie-trained Hawaii, beaten 2.05 lengths into fourth.
Payne was a twice SA Champion Apprentice and twice SA Champion Jockey, but his ambitions soon turned to training due to his weight.
He recalled, “Owners who had promised me support did not send me any horses so I had to go back to riding. I soon rode a winner called Yeti for Norman Ferguson and after the race his step-sons approached me. They had heard I had wanted to train and I was offered a position as their father’s private trainer.”
Ferguson’s trainer at the time called Leibbrandt had been incapacitated due to illness.
Payne continued, “He sent me ten horses and my first runner called Early Bid won. In Full Flight was a baby at the time whom he had bought for just R3,500 as he turned out slightly on the off fore and was a rig. When he was fit enough I galloped him myself and told Mr Ferguson ‘I think you have a champion.’ He didn’t believe me so we took him to Greyville for a gallop. A top sprinter called Trocadero galloped on the same day. Mr Ferguson timed both gallops and when he saw his unraced two-year-old had run a time a whole second faster he knew he had a champion.”
Ferguson, a big punter, cleaned up on In Full Flight’s debut over 1000m at Greyville which he won from a wide draw at odds of 9/2.
Two runs later he beat his arch rival Sentinel by 2.5 length in a Grade 2 over 1200m at Clairwood but lost his next two starts including being unplaced in the Champion Nursery Stakes, won by the great Elevation.
Payne said, “I was still learning at the time and I think if I had him today he would have been unbeaten.”
Current Summerveld trainer Dennis Bosch, who was given his first KZN winner as a jockey by Payne, said the above statement was typical of David’s humility and added, “”He was a young man but just worked … he was very conscientious and, believe me, even at that age he left no stone unturned.”
An example of Payne’s dedication was he thought nothing of walking In Full Flight an average of three-and-a-half miles per day through the cane fields and rolling hills around Summerveld.
“I was young and ambitious and would do anything for a winner so did everything I could to keep him happy,” recalled David.
Bosch rode one of the pick up horses in In Full Flight’s most important July preparation gallop at Greyville. He recalled David rode In Full Flight from the 2000m mark, picking up Mr Kent, a Grade 3-winning miler, along the way and Bosch’s mount, a filly called Helsinki, at the top of the straight.
“He gave both horses a hiding,” recalled Bosch.
There was now no vestige of doubt In Full Flight would stay the July 2200m trip.
Payne recalls Ferguson phoning him after the July and asking what car he would like.
“I didn’t want to say Maserati or anything like that so replied Alfa Romeo (not a prominent brand back then) and he said ‘dont be silly’ and bought me a Mercedes Benz!”
He added, “He was a tough, old school guy, they all said I wouldn’t last two months with him, but he was always very good to me.”
In Full Flight was in fact Ferguson’s second July winner as he had won it 32 years earlier in 1940 with Kipling.
David said In Full Flight always did everything asked of him and liked to please. He recalled his slamming of Elevation and Sentinel (by 5,5 lengths and 8 lengths respectively) in the Grade 2 Bull Brand International over 1600m at Scottsville under Chilean legend Fernando Toro, his thrashing of Sentinel by 5.5 lengths in the Grade 1 Woolavington Cup over 1400m at Clairwood and coming from a wide draw to dead-heat with Sentinel in the Grade 1 Cape Guineas as examples.
He displayed his superiority over Sentinel in his next start after the Cape Guineas, beating him by 2,45 lengths in the Queen’s Plate.
Sentinel did exact revenge in the SA Guineas at Greyville, which was In Full Flight’s last run before the July and his only defeat in eleven starts as a three-year-old.
The pair clashed eleven times and the score was In Full Flight 8, Sentinel 2 and one dead-heat.
Payne said In Full Flight relaxed well in the running and had a great natural action so was able to use his two greatest assets, his turn of foot and his speed, at any time.
The big bay had magnificent, imposing looks and was known as ‘I’Kunzi” (the bull) by the grooms. In Molly Reinhardt’s book “The July Handicap” David revealed In Full Flight knew his name and said, “When I called ‘I’Kunzi!’ he would come to me.”
Bosch recalled In Full Flight’s size, commenting on his width and his huge girth, and recalled too an autopsy had revealed him to have a large heart.
In Full Flight won 16 of 20 races, including seven Grade 1s from 1200m to 2200m in an era where he faced the like of Elevation, Sentinel, Mazarin, William Penn, Chichester, Force Ten and other top class horses.
He was ridden five times by ex-pat Australian George Davies for three wins, eight times by Clive Hyde for seven victories, once by Fernando Toro for one win, and six times by Rhodes for five wins and a third in his final start in The Met.
To emphasise his brilliance Payne pointed out, “The second best I have trained was Prince Florimund and he was better than Wolf Power. I inherited him from Cookie Amos and we ran him five times (in the 1982 Durban winter season), four times against Wolf Power, including three Grade 1s, and he beat him every time. In the Clairwood Winter he gave Wolf Power 3.5kg and still beat him … yet they never mention him.”
In Full Flight’s only quirk was being ticklish due to his fine, silky skin, so David had his stable walls rubberised to prevent injury from kicking out when being groomed.
David’s most painful memory is of In Full Flight passing away.
“I cantered him in the morning at Milnerton and heard a cough and saw a trickle of blood from his nostril.”
He immediately jumped off and unsaddled him and walked him slowly back to his stable but he had ruptured a lung and a devastated Payne watched his beloved friend literally drowning in his own blood.
“It was a terrible thing to see,” he recalled. “I used to ride him out everyday so it was like my whole life had been taken away, it was like being fired from a job. There was also nothing like him among the other six or seven horses I had.”
However, Payne then became a public trainer and went from strength to strength.
The final irony is In Full Flight was by top sire New South Wales and David now lives in New South Wales, Australia.