La Grande Dame of Racing
St Cecelia one of the greats of local racing
"SPECIAL in every way" is perhaps the most accurate form to describe the wonder and mastery of the seven-year-old mare, St Cecelia.
She has done it all.
A Classic winner of the 1000 Guineas and the Oaks, a winner of still the leading handicap event in racing, the Gold Cup, St Cecelia has defied the odds and on Saturday etched her name and that of her trainer Spencer Chung firmly in the annals of our racing history with a record-equalling 12 consecutive victories over various distances and against all comers.
At the ripe old breeding shed age of seven, the Burning Marque-She's On Wheels progeny's performances seem to be getting better and better. It has become the norm in Jamaica racing for fillies and mares to exit racing usually after attaining the age of five, but certainly after six to retire for breeding purposes.
The owners of St Cecelia did not adopt this model, and chose to race her instead of restricting her to the confines of the breeding farm.
This decision drew wagging tongues and some criticisms from some as it was expected that St Cecelia's performances would decline with age and she would lose valuable time in the process of producing a line of winners, who if they perform at even 50 per cent less that she did, would have been enough to satisfy her owners.
Instead of faltering, St Cecelia has grown from strength to strength with her performances, culminating in her record-equalling run of Saturday last in the six-and-a-half furlongs Eileen Cliggott Trophy. Now she allows weight to all and has given every indication that her dominance on the track will continue, all things being equal, for at least the rest of this racing year. Cliggott would be very pleased that a seven-year-old mare achieved such a rare feat in the race named after her.
There are some pundits who say that despite her many victories, despite her wonderful performances on the track, St Cecelia while a horse of outstanding qualities, cannot be truly ranked as the best local female to race in Jamaica because she has not carried weight and that the opposition she has had to face is inferior to that of days gone by.
St Cecelia has truly benefitted from the recent decision by the Jamaica Racing Commission (JRC) to limit the weight carried in any race to 57 kilogrammes or 126 lbs. These purists of horse racing point to the fact that Hotline, a truly magnificent filly who raced in the 1970s, still remains the only filly/mare to win two Grade One races (then designated as A1 races) with the weltering impost of 140 lbs.
Such maybe the case but one can only react to the situation at hand and deal with it. St Cecelia has done just that as she skittered through her racing career with the mark of greatness stamped all over. Racing is an unforgiving sport, the variables are many and some cannot even be defined, yet alone be understood. This filly/mare has done it all under the various conditions she has had to face in her racing life.
Certainly nothing more can be asked of her.
Spencer Chung is deserving of the highest praise. He is a young conditioner who has benefitted from learning his craft at the feet of the 'maestro' Phillip Feanny. He studied and learnt well. He is patient and has any obvious knack for training. Since his entry into racing, Chung has placed his horses well and at still a tender professional age has triumphed in four of the five Classic races, St Cecelia (Oaks and 1000) and Typewriter in the Derby and St Ledger.
He exudes an obvious love for horses which is a major prerequisite for doing well for despite the achievements of trainers, jockeys and owners, the horse still remains the single most important factor in horse racing.
No matter what the people say, the performances of St Cecelia must be shouted from the mountain top forever and forever. We as lovers of horse racing can only be glad to have witnessed one of the truly great race horses of our time.
St Cecelia must be adored and cherished by all Jamaica.