Those new to racing in Zimbabwe may be puzzled when reference is made to the Spey Bridge Awards, and Jackie Cocksedge was the obvious choice to supply some of the finer details.
Jackie joined the Rhodesia Bloodstock Agency in 1976 and says, “I was very privileged to have Peter Lovemore and Robin Bruss as my mentors. The Thoroughbred Breeders Association took over the RBA after Peter and Robin left to take up job offers outside our borders. I ran the TBA thereafter, with a few gap years off to run a small stud.
“As far as the Spey Bridge Awards go, I think I was probably a panellist for about three- quarters of its existence and chaired it, I think, 5 or 6 times.
“Inspired by the American Eclipse Awards and the UK equivalent now sponsored by Cartier, the custodians of the fledgeling Zimbabwe Racing Museum was motivated to establish our very own Zimbabwe racing “Oscars” in 1986.
“Peter Lovemore proposed the awards be named after Spey Bridge, a magnificent racehorse bred by the doyenne of breeding Mrs Ella Lockie at her farm, Ellerslie, in the Bromley district of Rhodesia. Spey Bridge was born in 1950 but campaigned in South Africa winning a multitude of top-class races including the prestigious Durban July Handicap in 1956. The only Zimbabwean racehorse to achieve this until Ipi Tombe in 2002.
“Suitable floating trophies were commissioned and each was hand-carved individually in Africa stone by Alex Million at the Canon Paterson Craft centre in Mbare. The statues are extremely heavy and irreplaceable so are used for display purposes only.
“Spey Bridge Categories are Champion 2-Year-Old, Champion 3-Year-Old Female, Champion 3-Year-Old Male, Champion Sprinter, Champion Older Horse and, the highest honour, Horse Of The Year. Human endeavor is recognised and awarded the Personality Of The Year. Provision is also made to award Special Awards if merited. Generally, each category is awarded annually, but the panel is reminded that if a category is not deserving of a title, then a vote of no award is recorded.
“The selection panel sits close to the end of the annual racing season, which in the Southern Hemisphere is 31st July. The panel consists of a chairperson who does not join the debate but has the casting vote in the event of a deadlock.
“Panelists comprise the Handicapper, the Senior Stipendiary Steward, the Racing Commentator, Racing press or media correspondents, representatives of the Jockeys Association, the Owners & Trainers Association and Thoroughbred Breeders Association, and a Mashonaland Turf Club Steward. “Each panelist submits their recommendation for each category. Sometimes no debate is necessary as a horse may be an automatic recipient, but sometimes debate is varied and often a hung jury occurs. Sometimes the panel may regard a category as weak in a particular season and no award is given.
“The inaugural panel sat in 1986, chaired by Peter Lovemore. The gold standard was set with the colt, Solar Blaze, and the filly, Swingfire, garnering Champion Two-Year-Old. In subsequent years the panel found it impossible to nominate one of each sex, and the award morphed into one individual.
“Ella’s Oracle garnered the 3-year-old filly title, and Match Winner the award for top 3-year-old colt. Tudor Sun won the Sprinter title which he held on to for three successive years. Catador was Champion Older Horse and Match Winner became the first Horse Of The Year. Geoff Armitage was voted Personality Of The Year.
“The panel is sworn to secrecy not to reveal the results until the racing awards presentations take place at a black-tie dinner/dance at an upmarket venue, usually around mid-September annually.
“Generally, the panel gets it right, and the racing and breeding industry applaud the recipients, but not in 1998. A right royal rumpus ensued when the panel voted for Ruby Clipper (NZ) as champion 2-year-old.
“The problem was the filly only campaigned once in Zimbabwe, going down by half-a-length to Blushing Becky in a Maiden Juvenile Fillies Plate. She then won her next start at Turffontein by 3 lengths, followed up with solid performances in the Debutante Stakes and Strelitzia Stakes and rounded off her 2-year-old career with a 4-length victory in the Grade 1 Allan Robertson Fillies Championship. An impressive campaign, but not in Zimbabwe.
“The panel did not make that mistake again, even when Ipi Tombe did us so proud – she just got a Special Award for her efforts.
“The roster of Spey Bridge recipients over the years tells a tale of Zimbabwe champions who have captured the imagination of the public and thrilled racing fans with their achievements on the turf.
“We salute them.”
Thank you, Jackie, for the info and photograph…new to racing or not it is good to be reminded of the significance of familiar things.