Smart Call set to fly South African flag at LONGINES Hong Kong International Races

Tucked away among the long list of entries for the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races, is a six-year-old mare from South Africa named Smart Call, owned by Jessica Slack Jell of Mauritzfontein Stud and trained by Alec Laird, best known in Hong Kong for his stunning victory in the 1997 QEII Cup with London News.

Smart Call (SAF) and JP van der Merwe winning at Kenilworth, picture Liesl King

After picking up a minor injury during her initial overseas foray to England under Laird’s care, Smart Call was transferred temporarily to Sir Michael Stoute earlier this year for an extended overseas campaign. The rest of her biography reads 16 starts in South Africa for seven wins and six placings, including two G1 victories, five starts in Europe including a fourth in the G1 Prix Jean Romanet at Deauville, and the possession of a superb temperament and a rather long pair of ears.

Ears, you may ask? Well, ears in mares are rather important. After all, both Treve and Enable sport a pair of long ones, prompting John Gosden to comment after Enable’s magnificent victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe that he is rather partial to mares with long ears!

Another who likes mares with long ears is Slack Jell, Smart Call’s owner. She owns a whole stud full of mares, as well as a number of decent runners, but Slack Jell’s all-time favourite is the big bay mare with long floppy ears. For not only is Smart Call a homebred, but she is also by Mauritzfontein’s resident stallion, Ideal World and when cantering home lonely in the G1 Woolavington 2000, she became her sire’s first G1 winner. On her dam side, Smart Call has even more history. Her mother Good Judgement is a daughter of the best racehorse ever bred at Mauritzfontein, the incredible Horse Chestnut.

Every time she races, Smart Call’s ears tell a story. As she canters down to the start, they flop lopsidedly and one can almost imagine her going through a mental to-do list in her head. When it comes to racing, she prefers to be midfield or even better out the back, still with floppy lopsided ears. Here, she switches off and don’t you dare chase her to be up with the speed; that will only result in too much work being done and a throwing in of the towel around about the final furlong. Laird learnt that lesson the hard way.

No, switching off for the first two thirds of the race is Smart Call’s preferred way. Once in the home straight though, she turns on the afterburners, stretches those equally long legs, flicks one ear forward and one back and then proceeds to leave multiple G1 winners in her dust. She is quite adroit at that, as she showed when storming home from way back in the January, 2016 G1 Paddock Stakes over 1800m to beat dual G1-winning mare Inara by two lengths. Inara in due course went on to win four top-level features.

The 2017 LONGINES Hong Kong International Race meeting is at Sha Tin on December 10th, picture ThoroughbredNEWS

The boys are not immune to her tactics, either. Next to watch her disappearing backside was dual G1 winner Legal Eagle, beaten by three and a half lengths in the Cape’s premier race, the G1 Met over 2000m. And Legal Eagle is no slouch either, with six G1s behind his name – he just happens to be the reigning South African Horse of the Year, for the second year running!

Every girl must have a dream and Slack Jell’s was to have a runner at the Breeders’ Cup. Sadly, although Smart Call’s Paddock Stakes victory granted her automatic entry to North America’s international shindig, the mighty mare pulled a muscle on Newmarket Heath with a month to go and the dream was over.

Not deterred though, Slack Jell decided to soldier on with an overseas programme and Smart Call joined Stoute’s Newmarket string for the full 2017 European season. The big mare may not have cared much for the undulating English tracks or the mud of the Curragh, but she always tries her heart out. Her fourth at Deauville was within a head of the second-placed horse and that despite receiving a hefty bump as she started her run. Hence, Sha Tin will suit her down to the ground literally. A flat grass track with no mud? For Smart Call and Slack Jell, it doesn’t get any better than that.

So if you see Smart Call step out onto the emerald green Sha Tin turf, whether it be in the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup over 2000m or the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase over 2400m, don’t look for the ‘Look of Eagles’, just watch her ears – they will tell you the whole story and then some.