First of all, it quickly became clear that in order to move things forward in South America, local knowledge and connections were indispensable. A partnership with LARC (Latin American Racing Channel), just as enthusiastic and committed as Ascot, was hence formed and would prove instrumental in the successful procuring of the first South American runner at Ascot.
The other issue, which proved much more difficult to overcome, was the obvious reluctance to try something that had never been done before. Horse racing, rich in history, has a long tradition of proven formulas, which are not easily changed. After all, it is not that long ago that racing on a Sunday in England was deemed unacceptable. And a female jockey riding at Royal Ascot or even in any other race ? Never.
Traditionally, in South America, a good horse might run in one of the neighbouring countries, but most of the time, if it showed any talent, it would be immediately be sold to the United States. Hence, travelling to Europe, where racecourses are not just left, but also right handed, where horses have to gallop uphill and downhill and where tracks are not plainly round or oval shaped, but can be more of a triangle or just a straight line, seemed a ridiculous idea. Yet, from that very first venture into South America in 2015, there was some considerable interest in the proposal and had the Peruvian trained Longines Gran Premio Latinoamericano winner Liberal not suffered an injury in the spring, he could have been the first horse to make it into the history books of the European Turf. As it was, the seeds had been well and truly sown and even before the running of the 2017 Longines Gran Premio Latinoamericano, contact was made with Sixties Song’s connections who had expressed the desire to embark on this daring new adventure that would secure them a page in the history books, regardless of the result. A condition was that the three-year-old Sixties Song needed to beat his opponents in the Longines Gran Premio Latinoamericano, which he duly did with several lengths to spare. Once it was decided that Sixties Song would indeed take up the challenge and come to the UK for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, an organisation worthy of running the next presidential election kicked in. First, Sixties Song was moved from the San Isidro racecourse to Palermo, where he went into quarantine and where he learned to run right handed. Then a cargo plane that was not going via Dakar and Frankfurt, but directly to the UK had to be found. The costs of a direct flight were astronomical, but the benefits of a thirteen hour flight compared with a twenty-four hour flight were undeniable.
Then a month before the King George VI, trainer Alfredo Gaitan and his son Lucas travelled to England to find the perfect accommodation for Sixties Song. After visiting various training centres, they decided on Abington Place in Newmarket where horses like Black Caviar had already been based. After having walked the course at Ascot one hot morning in June, connections decided to opt for a local jockey rather than his usual Argentine partner. This required some further organisation, but in the end, everything was in place, ready for the big day.
A week before the King George VI, Sixties Song arrived in Newmarket and to the surprise of everyone, he had travelled remarkably well. In fact, he was in great form, eating and drinking and taking the new environment in his stride, as if he had flown across the Atlantic all his life. Everything was going well and everyone was in high spirits. That is until the weather changed.
On the day of the race, the ground had turned soft at Ascot and although Sixties Song tried valiantly to follow a fabulous field composed of Europe’s best horses, there was no doubt, after galloping on the dry and fast tracks in Argentina, he did not think much of the mud that was flying into his face. In the end, his jockey abandoned any idea of trying to engage him in the final battle and let him finish the race in his own stride.
It was not the fairy tale ending everyone had hoped for, but connections agreed that it had been a great adventure and that Sixties Song was bound to win many more races in the future. However, come what may, Sixties Song will always have his place in the history of the turf as the first South American trained horse run at Ascot. And as his trainer said : “ If you don’t dare, you can’t win. We couldn’t do anything about the weather, but at least we tried. This is something we will never forget and I am proud that we will forever be the first in history. Not many people in this world can say that ! ” True, Sixties Song did not win, but he dared and for that he will always be remembered. [Liz Price]