VODACOM DURBAN JULY (Grade 1)
Greyville, Turf, 2200m
5 July 2014
The original domination of “Africa’s greatest horseracing event” was coined by Summerhill, but we always believed it should go one way. It’s arguably the biggest sporting event in Africa, and it’s without a doubt the richest two minutes in African sport. That said, in the international racing context, it’s something of an enigma: most of the leading racing countries of the world celebrate their greatest events as level weights or weight-for-age contests, where no horses (theoretically at least) enjoys a “weight-carrying” advantage. England has its Derby and “King George”, America has the Breeders Cup and the Kentucky Derby, France and Ireland have the “Arc” and Derby respectively, Australia has its Cox Plate and all the decent races in Japan are run on the same basis. The stand-out “contrarians” are South Africa’s Vodacom Durban July and Australia’s Melbourne Cup, both of which are handicaps, though our version is what the purists call a “compressed” handicap, where the bottom weight gets no less than 52kgs, and the top weight 60kgs, and whether it’s because of the recent history of the race, or whether it’s a matter of merit, looking at the betting, you’d have to say the three-year-olds rein.
For our part though, and this year for the first time in more than a decade, we don’t have a runner, so you can take our views on trust; we’d not be too quick to put our money unquestioningly on the three-year-olds. It is so, that South Africa’s older horse resources are plundered every year as the season winds down after the July, by the big money offshore, and they find their way via the Dubai World Cup to other climates. South Africa has become the victim of its own horses international successes, and with the currency as soft as it is, pounds, euros and dollars are king in the land of the developing, which means we have to do what we have to do.
It’s a tribute to the quality of racehorses that this country produces that even after this plunder, the horse brigade is still punctuated with the likes of Capetown Noir, Whiteline Fever, Wylie Hall, Pomodoro (a former July winner), Cherry On The Top and Espumanti.
The bookmakers tell us that their outright fancy is the Dynasty colt, Legislate, and purely on his record, you’d have to say he’s the stand-alone three-year-old of the crop, having rattled off Group One victories at 2000 metres in the Cape Derby and the Daily News, with a commendable win in the KZN Guineas (Gr.2) at a mile. Purely on the result of the Daily News, in which most of the protagonists were engaged, you wouldn’t want to be betting that he’s home-and-hosed, especially from draw 14. There were too many bad luck stories in that race for those that finished in his immediate wake, for consolations here, and we’d be betting that if that race was run again on that day, it would probably have fallen to Rake’s Chestnut without the impediments he had to face with a furlong to run. We did say we didn’t have a runner this year, but allow me to declare an interest: his mother Rake’s Progress was bred right here, and her mom, Final Call has our yearling preparation barn named after her. Louis The King already has the Gauteng Triple Crown on his CV, but as matters stand now, and on the back of the Daily News, that has already been packed on the shelf. Racing fans have short memories, with a bit of luck in the running, and less than 1,5 lengths separating him and Captain America from the favourite, they must come into the reckoning, certainly as far as the three-year-olds go, and the same applies to Brett Crawford’s Futura.
The “one-bogey” man among the field, is Bezanova, who was second to Legislate in the KZN Guineas, and like Rake’s Chestnut and Louis The King, performed creditably in the Daily News, just two lengths off the favourite. The problem I have with the three-year-old form, is that unlike most years, there is no line of value between any of these runners and the older horses, so Saturday will be the acid test. Whether he ran below his best last Sunday, Bezanova was the “hots” to win the KZN Breeders Million Mile, where he took on a few decent older horses, without any of them being real contenders, for a race of the calibre of the July, whether because of the distance or the class.
In the event, he was well beaten by No Worries (fair enough, he placed in last year’s July), and the listed winner Distinguished, on the face of it, tells us that the three-year-olds might not be up to muster.
If that is the case, our money would settle very quickly on the Drakenstein-bred, Sean Tarry-trained Halve The Deficit, who apart from draw 7, has the advantageous services of Piere Strydom in the irons. That said, if Capetown Noir is anything like at his best (now that he has blinkers) or if King Of Pain maintains his freakish run of form, they could all be on bended knees to these fellows (though neither of the latter two are drawn to advantage).
The whole party could be pooped on by environmental factors. For the first time in its history, the July is being run on a revamped racecourse. The new all-weather inner track has taken up a few meters of the old turf strip, which means the bend is a little wider out, and which presumably means the false rail will be slightly closer in. We’ve not seen rain on the KZN coast for some time, and a few millimetres have been predicted. Both of these issues could come into play when the sticks come out at the top of the straight. If you’re one of those nannies or grannies who keep their powder dry for a once-a-year flutter on the Durban July, this could be a good year to follow your dreams or the bones. There are any number of “street sangomas” out there who are willing to share their wisdom with you. Either way, there’ll be 60,000 encores enjoying the pageantry and pomp, and when the lights are dimmed around eight o’clock, most of the city will join them.