Racing: London News in capital form

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The Independent Online
For many decades, apartheid was not the only appalling disease that led to South Africa being ostracised. The virulent germ of African Horse Sickness meant the Republic's thoroughbreds were locked inside their own frontiers for fear they would transmit the malady.

It was in 1948, coincidentally the same year the apartheid system was implemented, that a South African horse last ran at Royal Ascot, when the five-day journey hardly aided Gambut in the Cork and Orrery Stakes.

The Rainbow Nation, and the treatment of AHS, has come a long way since then, and tomorrow their flag will be represented at the Royal meeting once again by one of the most brilliant animals of the southern hemisphere in recent times.

It was Hawaii, who first put South Africa on the turf map, when his export to the breeding sheds of North America resulted in the creation of Henbit, the Derby winner. Now there is another beast who could have been chiselled out of the rock of the Kimberley jewel fields, London News, who has won so many of the top contests in his homeland that Mandela may have worried about the colt running for premiership.

The disturbingly large, chestnut presence of London News has been dominating the sports pages of South Africa for some time now. He has collected baubles such as the Durban July, his country's most prestigious race, the Queen's Plate and the J & B Met.

For many outsiders though this was a flimsy hegemony, success gained in a Lilliputian turf nation. This view of London News' circulation changed one April evening in Hong Kong. The four-year-old rewarded his travelling entourage of trainer Alec Laird and owners Laurie and Jean Jaffee by capturing the Group One Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin. "But they were not the same quality horses as you get at Royal Ascot, which is the creme de la creme," Jean Jaffee said.

But then again they were not animals who should have been found under holidaymakers either. Annus Mirabilis was in third place, and he was runner- up to Oscar Schindler in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot last year, which followed a placed effort in the 1995 Irish Derby.

After Hong Kong, London News embarked on the sort of torrid Orient-to- Europe odyssey that Marco Polo would have endured if he had held his map upside down. Barry Hills, the Lambourn trainer, was waiting at the other end. "He had a hell of a journey to Lambourn because he was delayed in Amsterdam and then he landed at Manchester," Jean Jaffee said. "But Barry told me that when he arrived, he just walked out of the horsebox into his own box, eat up and went to sleep lying down. That's something for a four-year-old as it's only usually the babies that lie down at night."

London News has an adult's task tomorrow however, when he will be asked to repel (he invariably runs from the front) Bosra Sham, the 1996 Champion Stakes winner, in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes.

Laurie and Jean Jaffee will be at this week's meeting, just as they have been for the last 30 Royal Ascots, but this time they will be allowed on to the red carpet. "We hope our horse won't be disgraced," Jean said. "I just hope to goodness that he doesn't let us down, but I'm sure he won't because he's got such heart. Barry says he's a true professional and he's very happy with him. He, like us, thinks the whole thing is a great adventure."

London News has won nine races, which leaves him with a little ground to make up on another exotic foreign visitor to Berkshire this week. You will not see Gary Stevens at the find-the-lady table outside the racecourse trying to stump up the fare home. In 1993, the man from Caldwell, Idaho, became the youngest jockey in the United States to reach the $100m dollar mark in earnings. Last June he collected his 4,000th race.

Stevens has won three Kentucky Derbys, four Breeders' Cup races and, this season, two legs of the Triple Crown. Since his arrival in Britain late last week, however, two legs has also applied to the number of limbs his mounts appear to be running on.

The 34-year-old failed in his three rides at Sandown on Saturday and, yesterday, the nearest he got at San Siro, was Luso's second place in the Group One Gran Premio di Milano. Stevens will get at least nine opportunities to open his account this week, including the ride in the King's Stand Stakes on Almaty for John Gosden, who saddled Luso's conqueror, Shantou, yesterday.