Hall of Fame
EL PICHA (ARG)
1994, bay gelding, Tough Critic – Anayansi (Cipayo)
“They went to the line as one horse! It’s touch and go up front in the July,” exclaimed commentator Craig Peters at the end of the running of the Rothmans Durban July some 16 years ago.
After some deliberation, and after poring over the official photograph of the finish it was decided that El Picha had just clung on from a fast finishing Young Rake. But in so doing the Argentinean import had written himself into the history books as the fourth horse to ever go back-to-back in one of South Africa’s greatest races.
Sadly though, the former Geoff Woodruff inmate is no more after the recent news that the gelding passed on peacefully in his sleep at the ripe old age of 22 having lived out his life in the paddocks at his trainer’s home.
Imported from Argentina by Terrence Millard, El Picha was by Tough Critic out of a Cipayo mare, Anayansi and his career started off relatively slowly as a three-year-old, breaking his maiden at the fourth attempt.
But it was as a four-year-old that the gelding became a force to be reckoned with earning the first leg of the July double with a three quarters of a length victory over Classic Flag. That effort helped solidify status as Equus Joint Horse of the Year and Champion Older Male in 1999.
The next season, El Picha campaigned solely at graded race level starting off with a third in the Premier Handicap (Gr 2) before adding the Summer Handicap for a second career Grade One victory.
Fast forward to 29 January 2000 and El Picha came close to achieving the feat of claiming all three of the major race titles on offer but for Badger’s Coast who managed to do enough to steal the J&B Met crown that year by a quarter of a length.
As the year unfolded, El Picha ran second in the Champion Stakes (Gr1), claimed the Jubilee Handicap (Gr 3) and from there launched another assault at the July.
“It’s going to be hard to catch him from there,” boomed Peters as Anton Marcus skipped clear as the field swung for him. It turned out to be the right call, but only just. The official winning margin recorded as 0.01. The literal nostril and enough to deny Young Rake and, perhaps more importantly, earn an entry into the record books. What amplified that second July victory was the fact that it was achieved under top weight, only the fourth time it’s been done since 1978,
A possible treble was unfortunately scuppered by injury in the days leading up to the 2001 renewal.
El Picha ran four times as a six-year-old, each of them at Group One level, and managed to place on each occasion but sadly the Woodruff inmate never managed to get back into the winner’s box as the end of his career panned out.
The gelding did, however, hold the mantle as the highest earning racehorse in South Africa at one time. His tally at the end of a highly successful career amounted to just less than R4-million thanks to 12 wins and 19 places from 40 starts.