[The following post is a contribution from James Trotter, one of the young horsemen currently part of the Darley Flying Start program. His article is a personal testament to the importance that horses have in the lives of the people lucky enough to be around them. The parents of James Trotter are both involved in Thoroughbreds in South Africa, his father in administration and his mother in pre-training. The latter avenue is how Jet Master came to be so important to the Trotters. The big horse’s sire Rakeen (1987 bay horse, by Northern Dancer x Glorious Song, by Halo) began as a sire about the time that Mrs. Trotter was getting into pre-training, and Harvest Rose, one of Rakeen’s first top performers, went through her program. Furthermore, James said, “Harvest Rose was the first horse to be sent from us to [leading trainer] David Ferraris, and because of that many others followed, and many more Rakeens. ” Getting stock into the hands of the right people is as important in South Africa as it is here in the States.
James added that “It was a big step for my mom’s business at the time. Later on, leading trainer Mike de Kock and other major trainers would also become clients. In a funny way, Harvest Rose was the start of all of it. And so we always held a place in our heart for Rakeen. … We were excited to have any Rakeen [who by this time was the leading sire in South Africa]. And we had a few other good sons of his, of which Young Rake would be the most famous in these parts. Rakeen’s stock were generally smaller, tough horses, usually stayers, had lots of character, and could be high strung (and so Jet Master with his size was a complete anomaly).”
A champion on the racetrack for his sire, Jet Master also became his sire’s star son at stud. But James noted that “it had been a long time since a South African-bred and -trained horse had succeeded at stud. There was almost a stigma against it – there was a definite dogma that overseas was always better. Most stallions were from the USA or Europe. But there was also a patriotic hope that Jet Master would succeed.” The horse left no questions about that, and as a further connection to the Trotters, the “owners of Jet Master – Pat and Henry Devine – became extremely loyal clients of my mom and because they sent many of their mares to him each year, we would receive dozens of Jet Masters every year as yearlings to be backed and gotten ready for training. ”
The Trotters even bred a couple of good racers by Jet Master, and although the stallion died recently at age 17, the horse left James Trotter with an undying impression of greatness.]
Tribute to a South African Breeding and Racing Icon
“He is a freak…it’s as if the rest of the breed is here, and he is up there.” – Jet Master as described by Anthony Thompson, Widden Stud (Australia’s oldest and most successful family-owned stud)
Jet Master was a freak. With the benefit of hindsight many have hypothesised over his success – perhaps his size comes from his double-cross of Hail to Reason, perhaps this, perhaps that – but the reality of it is that in the billions of genetic possibilities that could come about in any one mating, he was just that: a horse that comes only once in a lifetime. A horse in a billion. A freak.
It is incredible how a horse can make such an impact on the world – not only in his achievements, but in his effect on people’s lives. I can unequivocally say Jet Master affected mine. To someone like my mom, who works with his babies every day, his death is like the loss of a part of her life, a friend. To his owners, who took joy in watching every runner of his on the track, he meant even more, he was a reason to live.
Jet Master was a physical embodiment of everything those of us who love horses or horse racing aspire to and love. He was big and beautiful, the way he held his head high whenever he stood portrayed an essence of nobility about him – as if he knew he was special.
I only saw him once. Thankfully I got my chance. It was a few years ago visiting Klipdrift Stud, his home near Robertson in the Western Cape. I had been looking forward to this moment. In the way we often find the strangest connections to horses, I had one here, as if to a childhood hero.
His story was one meant for a storybook and will be told for many years as part of racing folklore, as legend. His father was regally bred – by the greatest of sires, Northern Dancer, and out of the dam of both Singspiel and Rahy. When his father, Rakeen, arrived in South Africa, however, these now-famous names didn’t mean as much as they do now – and when Jet Master was born, Rakeen was still unproven. Jet Master’s dam was not regally bred herself. And so it was that when he was put through a sale, he brought only R15,000 (about $2,000).
This would be the last time that Jet Master would go unnoticed. His enormous physique, long powerful stride, those red silks, forging along at the front of the race – the opposition struggling to keep up – became the iconic figure you looked for, and became accustomed to watching over the next few years. Jet Master went on to win 17 races, including eight G1s, from 24 starts, winning himself the title of Horse of the Year in 1999/2000.
There are three races I remember him for most clearly. I remember the day he made his announcement onto the scene. It was Cape Guineas G1 day – South Africa’s first classic where the best 3-year-olds face off against each other. South Africa’s champion trainer, David Ferraris, had brought his crack colt, Classic Flag, down for the race, and people could not believe he had lost. They thought Classic Flag was a champion. And in fact they were right. Classic Flag would go onto win both the prestigious “Classic” G1 and the Rothmans July G1 that year and be crowned Horse of the Year. This day, however, he had just run into the makings of a superstar.
I remember what was surely Jet Master’s greatest test: the Gilbey’s Stakes G1 of 1998. This was South Africa’s premier 1200m sprint, a handicap, and he was carrying top weight. Not only that, he was facing up against Buddy Maroun’s triumvirate of star sprinters: Golden Loom, Fov’s Favourite, and All Will Be Well. It was one of the strongest renewals of the race ever assembled. Jet Master and these three, alone, would in their careers go on to amass close onto 70 wins among them. The lasting image for me of this race is the last furlong, Jet Master powering up the hill in front, All Will Be Well and Golden Loom at his flanks, challenging him, giving their all, but slipping behind, beaten.
The following year he would come back to the defend his title, with top weight again, but without those two horses as competition, he won it as he liked. The only other horse to have won this race twice in my lifetime was JJ the Jet Plane, his own son.
I remember the day they doubted him. He was being dropped down to 1000m for the first time in the Cape Flying Championship G1, Cape Town’s premier sprint. They said it was going to be too sharp for him, that he wasn’t fast enough for it, that a miler as good as he couldn’t have the speed to win a 1000m sprint of such calibre. I was at boarding school at the time and snuck into the neighbouring boarding hostel to watch the race. They never got close to him. The race was over half-way through.
I was blessed enough to have had my own little connection to Jet Master over the years – his owners, the Devines, have been loyal clients of my mom for years and so every time I get the chance to go home there are a couple new Jet Masters to look at. And most are not difficult to identify. They have their dad in them. Not only in their coat and size but in their temperament: they’re high spirited, cocky, tenacious, want to win – young aristocrats acting with a sense of confidence as if to say “Do you know who I am?”
And so from watching his races on the racetrack, seeing photos and videos of him, and from the various sons and daughters of his that had come to our farm, I had a mental image in my head of what he would be like, what to expect when I saw him for the first time. He was larger than life, with an attitude of a conquering king that nothing was beyond him.
For nothing was.
History showed he was not supposed to succeed at stud. The pedigree that was supposed to prevent him from running was also supposed to stop his success at passing these genes to his progeny. Five champion sire titles and one champion freshman sire title later, and those doubts are long past. He has become the flag-bearer for South African stallions, a name synonymous with international success and South Africa. Around the world when people ask me about stallions at home, the one they always want to know about is Jet Master.
It is not hard to see why. It is amazing to think of the group of horses he has had running throughout this past year – the legend Pocket Power, star-sprinter JJ the Jet Plane, warrior mare River Jetez, Met winner Past Master, brilliant filly Ebony Flyer – it has been difficult to keep his successes out of the news. He achieved things we never thought were possible. He has changed people’s lives. Who will forget the scenes of jubilation from trainers, owners and groom after JJ won in Hong Kong last year? They were on top of the world.
Anyone who has ever owned a Jet Master, witnessed him run, or been associated with him or his offspring would have felt as if they were a part of something great. We as humans seek joy in life. We seek it in our relationships, through our children. Some find it in sport, others in art, some by a helping others, others in achievement. Some find it in horses. It is difficult to know what exactly it is about a horse, or horse racing that touches people so. It could be the sheer majestic beauty of the animal, the sense of raw power and awe one feels when you look at them, when watching them run. It could be the human connection people get with their horse, when watching them grow, as if to a pet, a child. The thrill one receives when watching them succeed. It could be the hope, the constant dream one lives with when owning a horse. Or even some historical bond between human and horse, forged by a millennia-old partnership of battle together, working towards some new land, new goal, and new ambition.
Whatever are the things that make horses great, Jet Master possessed all of it. I hope that one day in the future, many years from now, I come across a big bay colt with a fleck of white in his coat, perhaps with a white blaze on his head. I look at his pedigree and see the name of his broodmare sire, or even his great-grandfather, and I am reminded. I am reminded of Jet Master in his customary and most natural pose: standing proudly, his neck and head held high – as if some statue of a long forgotten military general – staring imperiously with bright eyes into the distance, into the future, confident and ready for whatever challenge or adventure awaits.
Thank you for the memories, Jet Master. Thank you for the joy.
Within moments of seeing Jet Master for the first time held by his groom, as if on cue, he reared and stood on his hind feet for a few seconds, arching his neck, pawing his front feet at the air in front of him. It was a materialisation of the symbolic image we associate with horse power. It is how I remember seeing him – a colossal presence, a lasting memory.
For more information on Jet Master, his legacy and his achievements visit: