It’s a major achievement for any owner, trainer or breeder to have a runner in the Gr1 Vodacom Durban July. When you have a maximum intake of ten youngsters every year, and a population of less than 50 horses, then it’s time to reflect on a job well done.
Hollywoodbets sponsored Alyson Wright, who runs a training operation under the banner of Gee Racing with her former champion jockey husband Kevin at Summerveld, was over the moon to celebrate a first ever runner in Africa’s greatest race as her 4yo Marchfield gelding Matterhorn made the cut when the field was unveiled on Tuesday 22 June.
The Lammerskraal bred galloper, one of three KZN flagbearers in the race that everybody wants to win, only has ten runs under the belt, and is yet to win a stakes feature – but his story speaks of a sweet plan come together for the hardworking team and his Mauritius-based owner Reynolds Chung.
Alyson’s eagle-eye hubby Kevin, who coincidentally celebrated his 54th birthday just 24 hours after Matterhorn was accepted into the Vodacom Durban July class of 2021, found their July dream at the 2018 BSA National 2yo Sale.
While Marchfield hasn’t exactly set the world alight, the good-looking youngster caught the former top jock’s eye and he had to have him. Matterhorn is out of the versatile Western Winter stakes winning mare Next Spring, who won four races from 1000m to 2000m in the red and white silks for the Rattrays. She was trained by Joey Ramsden.
Alyson says that Matterhorn showed plenty of promise early on and his original target was the Daily News 2000 in 2020.
“His owner Reynolds Chung is an experienced and patient man who knows his racing. We were all looking forward to a good season from him as a 3yo. But in March last year our yard suffered a bad virus and Matterhorn was off the track for six months. Kevin promised Reynolds that we’d give him a Durban July runner – and it’s worked out like the proverbial dream,” says Alyson proudly.
The long break may in fact have been a tonic in disguise as Matterhorn has come back as a mature and consistent 4yo.
He has won 3 of his 6 starts since returning to action and run three seconds – including fighting efforts behind She’s A Keeper in the WSB 1900 and Black Knap in the Lonsdale.
“His prep has gone well and he will come in fit – although the 15 draw didn’t exactly do our prospects any favours. But Serino (Moodley) has got to know him well and will ride him as best he can to suit the circumstances. Nobody wants a slow pace and I frankly don’t see that happening, looking at the composition of the field.”
Alyson said that the talented lightweight jockey had been engaged some time ago as they wanted a rider that could do the weight, would know their charge and be able to ride him, without other stables calling on his services.
“We are under no false illusions. Matterhorn is a 66-1 longshot with Hollywoodbets and it’s a really decent field. His barrier draw, as I said, is also against us. But no ticket, no chance! And Reynolds will be with us in spirit from across the Indian Ocean in Mauritius. Whichever way we look at it, we are already winners just to start at 15h00 on Saturday 3 July in this great race,” added the experienced horsewoman.
Despite the tough times facing the industry, Alyson says that power players like her sponsors Hollywoodbets had made a difference and always had the interests of the game at heart.
“We are really so proud to enjoy the association with a winning brand like Hollywood. They have made a massive contribution to racing in KZN and nationally. The sponsorship of our raceday unforms and overalls etc means that our team can always turn up smart – our racing product goes out to the world and a professional image is important.”
Alyson pointed out that Hollywood also incentivised their sponsored trainers with winners and a listed and graded races incentive.
“Times are tough for everybody and every little bit helps to keep the ship sailing smoothly,” she added.
Besides Matterhorn, Gee Racing have four other runners on Vodacom Durban July Day.
Both of their runners in the respective sexes BSA Sales Cups have drawn well and ‘have money chances’.
In the first race, One Night In Paris would have come on after her debut win. She is a lovely filly, according to Alyson.
Stateofusa runs in the second. He ran a nice race on debut and will also have come on with the run under the belt.
The slow pace in the Gr2 Track & Ball Oaks last weekend put paid to hardknocking Flichity By Farr’s chances. She runs in the Pick 6 opener, the DSTV Gold Vase.
“Tristan knows her well. She is fit and we are hoping for a decent effort if things go her way,” adds Alyson.
Hollywood Syndicate runner Kingsmeads Krystl takes her chances in the high quality Zulu Kingdom Explorer Gr2 Golden Slipper.
With Richard Fourie up from a decent draw, the twice raced maiden still has to up her game. Alyson concedes it will be a ‘tough task’.
Top level racing is nothing new for the Gee Racing Team.
They notched their first Gr1 win with Kochka in the 2013 Gr1 Premier’s Champion Stakes
A lifetime equestrian, the 48 year old Alyson was born and bred in Zimbabwe and rode from a young age. She show-jumped all the way through her younger years.
Her Mom Penny Fisher, worked as an assistant to Jack Perry and Benny Lobel who were owner-trainers, later training in her own right.
“That’s how I met Kevin – he was a jockey and we met when I was sixteen. Kevin was a very good rider. He was champion jockey while he was still an apprentice. He was champion jockey in Zim for many years,” she adds with tangible pride as she also tells us about their 25 year old son Gary, who has a good day job – outside of racing – as a Civil Engineer with a major roadbuilder in KZN.
While the sport of kings runs in the blood, there was apparently never a chance of the ambitious young man following in his folks’ racing bootprints!
“Kevin always says I cured him. I was so desperate for him to ride so that we could have nice ponies, but a few falls and that was the end of that. He qualified at Stellenbosch and is doing his masters while working.”