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London News wins the 1996 Durban July (Picture: Gold Circle)  

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the purchase at the National Yearling Sale of a horse called London News.

The colt went on to join his father as a winner of the Durban July, among other world class achievements.

Trainer Alec Laird recalled big owners Laurie and Jean Jaffee’s chief aim at that Sale was to buy a yearling by their own 1987 July winner, Bush Telegraph.

Alec recalled Harmony Forever being his number one choice at that Sale.

However, he remembered London News being “a nice horse.”

He added, “On the first day a Bush Telegraph colt called Mr Newspaperman went for about R300,000. London News looked more athletic and Jean Jaffee actually said to me, ‘What about this one?’ On the first day they didn’t get a horse, the second day they didn’t get one and the more they asked me about London News the nicer he got, because I was otherwise going to go home without a horse!”

The Jaffees managed to secure London News.

Alec recalled, “He was a light youngster and even as a three-year-old was quite light. He didn’t show immediately, but we always had the feeling that he would be a nice horse when he matured.”

In fact, London News made a particularly inauspicious debut, beaten no fewer than 16,5 lengths under Anton Marcus in a 1200m Maiden Juvenile Plate over 1200m at the Vaal on June 6, 1995.

Alec said, “It was a terrible run because he was green and didn’t know where to go. But Anton did say ‘I think this is a nice horse.’ Anton didn’t get the ride again because I said to him, ‘Come with me, let’s take London News and a few horses to Summerveld’, but Anton (Jo’Burg-based) didn’t want to come with. So that is how I found Douggie Whyte (Durban-based).”

Alec quipped, “When the horse turned out good Anton said to me, ‘I told you he was good’ and I said, ‘Ja, but I told you to come with me!’ The funny thing was when London News won the QE II Cup in Hong Kong, Anton finished second!”

Alec considered Clairwood a nice track to introduce a horse and he finished an improved fourth over 1200m there in his second start before being stepped up to a mile and winning at Scottsville on September 9, 1995 by 4,5 lengths.

He then reeled off three victories in succession on the Highveld over 1600m including the Gr 2 Dingaans by 5,40 lengths.

Alec said, “In those days, even today, if you win the Dingaans you know you have the chance of a July horse.”

Alec continued. “He was the short-priced favourite for the Cape Guineas, but he got stuck in a pocket. Ashtontown nailed him because he had his revs up when he passed us. But we got revenge a year later over the same course and distance (Queen’s Plate).”

The pace had been slow in the Guineas and it “killed him” again in the Gr 1 Cape Derby.

Laurie Jaffee put pressure on Alec to change jockeys when they returned to the Highveld, as Whyte could not ride work being a Durban jockey.

It was not something Alec liked to do, but Piere Strydom took over for the Gr 1 Administrator’s Classic over 1800m at Gosforth Park in March.

“Strydom galloped him a week before and we decided if there was no speed we would have to make our own pace. He picked it up at the 1000m mark, turned for home lengths clear and won by 7,25 lengths. So we thought we would go to the July with a similar tactic.”

London News was ironically beaten into third by Harmony Forever in the Gr 1 SA Guineas at Greyville, the latter trained by Alec’s cousin Dennis Drier.

However, in the Daily News he went to the front and won by 4,2 lengths from Harmony Forever, smashing the course record, which still stands today.

Running 2000m in course record time gave Alec the confidence he would stay the 2200m July trip.

Two wily racing men, Alec Laird and Piere Strydom, gathered on Friday to discuss big race tactics.

Alec recalled, “We drew 14, but there was a horse called Supa Dyce who was drawn six and liked to sit second and we knew trainer Mike Riley would like to sit second. That was also Weiching Marwing’s style. So we decided we were probably going to lead, but also decided we would just go up to the outside of Weichong, believing he would let us in.”

That was exactly how it panned out and London News was under a hard hold when he took over from Supa Dyce rounding the Drill Hall.

Alec recalled, “When he kicked away in the straight I thought he was going to win by five, but then they came flying. The horse who came second (Sleek Machine) was ridden by Douggie Whyte! He was trying to get revenge for losing the ride and he was actually unlucky because he had to ease and switch!”

Alec added, “Mike Rattray had invited me to watch in his box because it was on the line and he won by a neck but my eyes wouldn’t believe it because there was so much pressure. I wanted to see the number up!”

About three years earlier Alec had ordered a print of Henk Vos’s famous painting that depicted every July winner and which was set for completion in 1996 to coincide with the 100th running of the race. Vos joked that he would love it if an Alec-trained horses filled the final frame, frame 20. That wish not only came true, but London News was also fittingly saddle cloth number 20!

Alec described the emotion of being on the honour roll together with his late record-breaking seven-time July-winning father Syd.

London News is today one of only seven horses to have won the July and the Met and he achieved international fame by winning the QE II Cup in Hong Kong.

Famously, Doug Whye was back aboard for all of the Queen’s Plate, Met and QE II Cup.