Synopsis: “Legends of the Turf” is a 17-episode documentary series about the greatest South African racehorses to have graced the South African turf from 1960 to 1980, a period known as “The Golden Age” of racing.
Colorado King’s story begins before his birth with trainer Syd Garrett, the only man ever to have ridden, trained, and owned Durban July winners. Garrett was mentor to his nephew Syd Laird, the man who would train Colorado King, and also to Robbie Sivewright who would ride the horse. The episode examines how these two characters were shaped by the master trainer, and lays the foundation for two personalities that we get to know more over the course of the series.
Colorado King was a small but stocky chestnut colt that was bred by the Birch Bros. He won a host of races in the Cape that included the Guineas and Derby, before traveling to Durban to win the July Handicap. He was subsequently bought by American billionaire Fritz Horn (owner of the Dallas Cowboys), and exported to race on the West Coast of the USA where he won the Hollywood Gold Cup and also equaled the world record for 1800m on dirt. Colorado King paved the way to international stardom for numerous other South African exports and proved to the world that South African thoroughbreds could compete with the very best. He was a racehorse in the truest sense, whose feats on international soil are yet to be bettered.
Growing up in a family steeped in racing tradition, my grandfather and mother used to tell me the stories about the great racehorses of the past. One of my most vivid memories is of me sitting on my grandfather’s bed as he told me the story of Sea Cottage. As time marches on, one forgets, but a few years back I came across a scrapbook filled with clippings about the great Sea Cottage and suddenly all my childhood memories came flooding back. It was then that I decided to tell the stories of the great South African equine racing legends in a way that brought them back to life and immortalized them for all time.
The goal was to create a series that appeals not only to the racing fan, but also to the layman. I have tried to identify each champion’s unique character and story and tell it in such away that it becomes personal. Through interviews with some of the great trainers, owners, breeders and jockeys of the past, together with archive footage, newspaper clippings and the occasional dramatisation, we get a deeper insight into the world of thoroughbred racing during the 60’s and 70’s. Some stories are about heroes, some about scoundrels, some about human conflict, some about thrilling rivalries, others about the great bonds that exist between man and beast, and many are about triumph in the face of adversity.
Legends of the Turf has been a journey of some nine years. I have had to take on multiple roles as producer, director, writer, researcher, interviewer and voice over artist. I am the living proof that where there is a will there is a way and thus the whole production has been a very personal experience for me. The ghosts of the past greats are living through me, through the stories that I am telling and I consider it a privilege to have become their voice.
Aidan Lithgow studied at AFDA and has a degree in film directing and screen writing. “Legends Of The Turf” is Aidan’s first long form project. Aidan is also an accomplished show jumper and regularly commentates at showjumping events in South Africa.