Grant Ready To Break July Duck With Future Pearl

Countdown to Saturday 6 July

The loss of a big job, seven weeks of suspensions, and the priority of focusing on living a balanced family life has meant that Grant van Niekerk hasn’t enjoyed the greatest season professionally.

But winning the Hollywoodbets Durban July could change all that in just over two minutes on Saturday.

A natural lightweight, the Cape Town-born Grant, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Sunday, has enjoyed something of a rollercoaster ride since joining the SA Jockey Academy in 2007, his brilliance and balance in the saddle overshadowed at times by lapses of concentration – as evidenced by his seven weeks of suspension this term.

Grant van Niekerk was at the Snaith Racing Beach outing earlier this year (Pic – Chase Liebenberg)

“I take my hat off to Richard Fourie on what he has achieved this season through sheer hard work and endless travel. But I have no championship aspirations and prefer to have a balance in my family life. My pigeon pair are very young still. These are precious days that we can’t get back and I love being a Dad. That doesn’t prevent me though from enjoying my profession and working hard.”

By Grant’s own admission, it’s not been his best season to date.

“I’m currently at 10th on the national log and it’s been tough due to my suspensions and the loss of the job with the Snaiths. But I am not going to change my focus on riding in Cape Town and only travelling  to other centers for big race days when the opportunities arise.”

“Some people may perceive that as me being a waste of talent, but I would rather enjoy my life, and be there for my children, while enjoying my work.”

And the call-up from Sean Tarry early last week for Grant to ride Future Pearl in Saturday’s big race is just the gap that he was waiting for – a tonic to put this season into better perspective.

The Hollywoodbets Durban July is missing from Grant’s CV.

He came within a short head of winning twelve years ago on Smanjemanje, bumping the genius Piere Strydom and Pomodoro. Watch that replay:

He has also placed second in Africa’s Greatest Horserace on two more occasions: with Marinaresco in 2016 and Linebacker in 2021.

His initial engagement was on Hluhluwe for Justin Snaith. He is a first reserve runner.

“My first preference was Hluhluwe but there was always a question mark if he would get in. Mr. Tarry then offered me the ride on Future Pearl. However, I made it very clear to both Mr Tarry and the Snaiths that if Hluluwe doesn’t get in then I will ride Future Pearl as I felt he had a lively chance.”

Grant van Niekerk – highs and lows, genius and inexplicable blunders – but he has the horse, the experience and the mindset to win the big race (Pic – Chase Liebenberg)

Van Niekerk travelled to Johannesburg to partner Future Pearl in the official gallop that was pre-recorded and shown as part of the gallops on Thursday last week.

“He is feeling amazing, and Mr. Tarry has the knack of getting him spot on this time of the year. He is really good in Durban and enjoys the Hollywoodbets Greyville circuit and that is a big plus. Future Pearl has only been beaten at this track once. That was in the Lonsdale Stirrup Cup of 2023. He was very unlucky not to win that race as he got caught up on the rail.”

Grant adds that the multiple champion conditioner and himself have spent time studying the form properly and watching all of Future Pearl’s runs.

“He runs really well at this time of year. He’s a horse with a massive action, needs to get going earlier, and his turn of foot is really good. So he will be mowing them down in the home straight.”

Grant is also not overly concerned that he will jump from the widest gate of all – closer to the Durban beachfront than he would have chosen to be.

With a chuckle he adds: “Let’s face it, over the years I’ve always been unlucky with Durban July draws. I actually prefer it, because this is by far the roughest race on the calendar. It’s a hard race to ride in with everyone jostling for position. So being drawn out wide gives you options to give your horse every chance. You can slot in and judge the pace, so it’s not a bad thing. However, it’s not ideal to be drawn 18, but from some way back, it’s easier to see how the race is unfolding.”

With plan A and B in place ahead of the big race, the Capetonian is feeling relaxed and quietly confident.

“When riding for a big yard, it’s less stressful as the horses are prepped to the moment, and you can ride with confidence. Your horse feels that and in turn delivers their best,” he concluded.

It’s that combination of determination, dedication, and the ability to make split-second decisions that defines a successful jockey.

Grant van Niekerk’s confidence going into the Hollywoodbets Durban July, bolstered by his experience and strategic mindset, could very well be the key to breaking his Gr1 duck this season. With his talent and track record in big races, he certainly has what it takes to make it happen.

You can back Future Pearl at time of writing with Hollywoodbets at 16-1.


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