Every year I do my ‘bah humbug’ impression and swear that this year July fever won’t get me. It’s a handicap, the track is impossible, it’s a rough and ready rugby scrum for the post and almost every year there is some kind of disaster, high drama or upset result.
This year’s July got out of the starting blocks early. We nearly had a black stallion, and then we didn’t. We nearly had Muzi Yeni and then we didn’t. Of course we nearly didn’t have Horizon and then we did.
I think perhaps it’s because of all the variables and its sheer unpredictability that makes it so alluring. The July, perhaps more than any of our big feature days, allows one to hope. Once those gates open, you can throw the draws, the handicaps and the going out of the window – you are in the lap of the gods and anything can happen. Whether it’s Lady Luck, the Luck of the Draw or even just plain Blind Luck, it is perhaps this sheer capriciousness that makes the Durban July the one race on the South African racing calendar that above all others, every owner, trainer, breeder and jockey wants to win. So despite my best efforts, it manages to get me every time.
Like most of our big days with long standing sponsors, there is a defined rhythm to the July and the day ebbs and flows around the card, changing its mood and texture as the day wears on.
All the winners
A twelve race card is a lot to digest, but with so many horses, stories and colour, it is a white knuckle ride through the day as everyone wants a winner. I don’t want to miss anyone out, so will start at the top. Gavin Lerena, back on a flying visit, secured an early birthday present with a determined ride on Silver Class in the 1400m poly dash on the card opener for the Johan Janse van Vuuren yard.
Anton Marcus earned his riding fee the hard way in race 2 with Head Honcho, to quote Sheldon Peters ‘doing everything to get beat’. Despite being devilled by an ornery horse and an errant stick, Anton was not taking no for an answer and all but physically pushed the La Plaisance homebred over the line in the 1400m Mumm Stakes for Plattner Racing. A gracious Andre Nel gave all credit to Barend Botes and the team saying, “I’m just the one standing in front of the camera.”
The Betting World 2200, or ‘consolation July’ got the day’s features under way a touch before 1pm and welcomed back Callan Murray. The Normandy bred son of Captain Al, Crowd Pleaser has shown excellent Durban form, beating Edict Of Nantes in May and finishing a short head behind Elusive Silva in the Cup Trial earlier this month. Keagan de Melo got him out smartly, settled into the driving seat and as Craig Peters said, led them a merry dance all the way across the line to give Johan Janse van Vuuren a quick double. It was fun to have Andrew Bon to get a blow by blow account from the saddle, even though he nearly directed poor Keagan the wrong way back to the winner’s enclosure.
In the Gold Vase, Captain Splendid lugged in badly over the final 100m, resulting in a titanic battle with Hermoso Mundo. The son of Ideal World held his line courageously and the two crossed the line as one. It didn’t take long for the objection hooter to sound and the result eventually went the way of Weiho Marwing, resulting in one of the most entertaining post race interviews I’ve seen in a long time. Thank goodness for the volume button!
Champion trainer Sean Tarry made it a clean sweep of the juvenile races, taking the Golden Slipper with Desert Rhythm and S’manga Khumalo (with Lyle Hewitson picking up a handy 4th place cheque on his pick up ride on Rockin Russian) and the Golden Horseshoe with Purple Diamond and Nooresh Juglall, also back for a visit.
There is always a little spike in the adrenaline at this point in the day and somewhere between the fillies parading for the Slipper and the colts being unsaddled after the Golden Horseshoe, the Greyville crowd seems to thicken and swell and suddenly it’s standing room only for the main race.
A Rainbow Race for a Rainbow Nation
As the designated racing person in my circle of friends, I’m the ‘go to’ person for the July and do my best to give them a little pre-July run down on the year’s field. It’s also an opportunity to try and find a pick for the race. After all, it’s a horse race and you’re not invested until you have a dog in the fight. I tend to have the opposite problem and can find a reason for them all to win, but this year was a particularly colourful one in terms of the stories involved. All were deserving, but of course only one can cross the line first. Krambambuli had us holding our breath, the 3yo’s threatened, the filly flew, but the horse that threw his heart across the line and took ours along with him, was Marinaresco.
When I’d chatted to Bernard Fayd’herbe about his Pocket Power dead heat late last week, he said he wanted to win the race outright and as it turned out, Lady Luck chose to favour him with her smile and the rest of us got a fairytale. The lady trainer, the littlest horse, the biggest jockey, the top weight, the ‘right’ silks, the father-daughter team, the lot. Bloody Durban July running down both sides of my face. The colour of magic indeed. Last season he was the boy wonder, this season people were saying ‘boy, we wonder what happened’, and on Saturday, Marinaresco said, “Boys, he who laughs last, laughs the longest!’
There were some technical hitches with the sound for Bernard’s post race interview with Fiona Ramsden, but we got the bit that counted. “This one is especially for Mr Bass”. Asked for his thoughts on Candice’s first win at her first attempt, Bernard summed it up beautifully. “She’s done so well, just taking over the reins, what a responsibility. She’s producing the goods time and time again. It just shows, what’s in your blood, you can’t wish away.” I just loved that Bernard’s silks had Pocket Power’s name stitched into the collar. Nice touch. The old boy must be damn proud.
The best of the rest
With the big one out of the way, we can gradually exhale as the day starts to wind down. Mr Drier always sneaks onto the podium on July day and defended KZN’s honour with the gorgeous and beautifully named Horse Guards, who took full advantage of his 52.5kgs and walloped the field by 1.5 lengths under Sean Veale.
Corne Orffer deftly overcame his wide draw in the KZN Sale Million, getting the Brett Crawford-trained Al Mariachi to the front of the pack and then following the shortest route home. Sniper Shot got to within his girth under a determined ride from apprentice Diego de Gouveia, but the post came in time. Watching the KZN Sale Million winner being led in under the stars has become another of the markers on my July day chart. With the sun gone and the day trippers melting into the interior of the track in search of libation and other comforts, the parade ring becomes the preserve of the horsemen again, which is just how I like it.
As such, the stage was perfectly set for the Jonsson Workwear Garden Province Stakes. One of the jewels on the day’s card for punters and purists alike, Susan Rowett’s ‘pink filly’ Bela-Bela delivered in devastating fashion for a beaming Justin Snaith. Snaith Racing proceeded to mop up the rest of the silverware, taking the eThekwini Sprint with the royally bred Bishop’s Bounty. Not only is he a full brother to Brutal Force and Red Ray (recently retired to stud), but also to Target Acquired, who Sally Jourdan was kind enough to loan me for an outride on my visit to Lammerskraal. So I was particularly pleased to watch Bernard Fayd’herbe execute a hatchet job with military precision.
However, one of my (other) favourite rides of the day (Marinaresco’s win tops the boards obviously!) was a very clever bit of riding from Richard Fourie in the last to overcome the draw and get Copper Force nicely placed to sew up the lucky last for the Snaiths as well.
I just have to make a mention of all the special and hard-working people behind the scenes who put in so many hours to make sure we all have a good day out. Also a special thank you to the very lovely white-faced lead horse who did such sterling service all day and was still on duty to take the 6 horse down in the last race.
Although SAFTote and Interbet were down for large parts of the day (it’s a little tough to accept poor turnover reports when we are unable to process bets on our biggest day of the year), but at least the stalls worked and the track was wide enough for all the horses, although with a number of runners finishing tailed off, the Stipes report will make for interesting reading.
And there we had it. Months of sweat, frustration, fears and hopes – either delivered beyond expectation, or dashed on the Greyville theatre of dreams. The greatest ecstasy and the bitterest agony hidden behind the bright silks and the emerald turf.
Molly Reinhardt’s little quote could have been made to order for this year’s theme, “Trainers, owners, jockeys, big time gamblers and small punters are revealed in their true colours when the chips are down. Many can take the triumphs, but not all can face the defeats. If you can’t take it, you shouldn’t be in it – much better to go into a nice quiet profession like undertaking – the only job in the world where you can rely on dead certs.”
Either way, no matter how hard you try, the Vodacom Durban July always gets you.