It’s Time For The Durban July – Party Central

As many of you will have realised by now, I am a champion of International racing as well as everything back home in the UK, and each year I head off (at my own cost) to Durban in South Africa for The Durban July, Africa’s biggest race, and a party like no other.  Naturally I will be writing a review of the day after the event, but before then I need to preview the day, and even attempt to find the winner of the big race – though that is never easy I assure you.

Held at Hollywood Bets Greyville racecourse, on the first Saturday of July, it was first run way back ion 1897 and is, in my mind, the equivalent of all five days of Royal Ascot rolled up into one- this is not just a race meeting but a place to see and be seen, where the rich and the famous mix with the serious racegoer, and where the fashions just have to be seen to be believed – welcome to Africa! Every year there is a specific them with the 2024 renewal being “Ride The Wave”, so I expect to see all sorts of weird and wonderful fashions based on a seaside or surfing theme, all of which I will report on after the event, so watch this space as they say.

Back to the race, and although it started over a mile, it is now that bit more of a stamina test with the distance of 2200 metres testing a few each year as they look for their share of a purse of 4.25 million Rand (about £182,000 in a Country where you can get a nice T-bone steak for a tenner. Unsurprisingly, despite being a handicap, it attracts the best horses from all of South Africa with the Cape trainers sending their battalions North in hunt of the prize, and we have seen exciting finish after exciting finish over the years as the full field hurtle their way down the narrow straight in the hope of victory.

Looking at recent years, it will come as no surprise to anyone who follows South African racing to see Justin Snaith as the number one handler with four winners in the last decade, two of those with the legendary Do It Again in 2018 and 2019, while Sparkling Water won it in 2022 for Mike de Kock, and Brett Crawford last year with Winchester Mansion, who is back for more in 2024 and cannot be ignored – though the handicapper has put him up 3kg which cannot help his chances. Much is made of the draw, as it is at any Flat meeting the World over, and all I can add to that (I am no expert), is that of the last 16 winners, 11came from a double figure stall, make of that what you will?

This year’s early market sees See It Again, second last year, as the 7/2 favourite and he is trained by Michael Roberts, Champion jockey in the United Kingdom back in 1992 and now back home continuing to work with horses. I’m a huge fan of Michael’s and search him out every year for a brief chat but this year we got to interview him “officially” for his opinions about the son of  Twice Over (a dual Champion Stakes winner for Sir Henry Cecil) who was given a final tune up when third to Dave The King and Cousin Casey in the Grade One Hollywood Bets Challenge over the Greyville mile in early June, but more of that in the race preview (below).

We also ran into Rachel Venniker, and I cannot emphasise enough just how good she is. First female to be Champion Apprentice, box ticked, first female to ride 100 winners, box ticked – first female to ride in the Durban July – that box is about to be ticked on Saturday afternoon, first female to win it – we shall see. Young and totally focussed, Rachel is a breath of fresh air with that balance of ability (which she clearly has in abundance), and the willingness to learn from others which makes her an even bigger force to reckon with, and you write off her chances at your peril, with a visit to ride in the Shergar Cup at Ascot later in the year another step on her road to the top. She has chances wherever she rides, but can she win the Durban July?

Meanwhile it would be remiss of me not to at least mention in passing some of the other 11 races on the card (it’s a marathon not a sprint!), though if you think I am naïve enough to even consider the handicaps you have another think coming – if I won’t put my own money where my mouth is I won’t be tipping for you either.  We do have other high class races to at least consider, and for what they are worth, I offer up my opinions on some (not all) those races below – followed by the big one!

 

Race Five 2.20pm – Zulu Kingdom Explorer Golden Slipper Grade 2

1400 metres and a race restricted to two-year-olds fillies and while nothing is certain, we should still be in for a competitive race. I get the feeling there may be more to come from Khethiwe’s Destiny who is in the capable hands of Mike de Kock and could mount a serious challenge despite the step up in class. She can go well but if I have a bet then it will be on Quid Pro Quo who has the form in the book to take this for Barend Botes. The winner of her last three starts including the Grade One Allan Robertson Championship last time out where she beat Rodeo Drive by a quarter of a length or so, the runner-up has won since to frank the form, suggesting we are at least considering backing a horse with a decent chance.

Race Six 3.00pm – Durban Golden Horseshoe Grade 2

Tony Peter’s Taxi To The Moon is the unknown quantity here after winning his one start at Vall when backed as if defeat was an impossibility, but he has been off since early March and this may prove too big an ask – unless the early markets tells us otherwise, of course. Great Plains looks likely to go well for Justin Snaith as he looks for his four-timer and could well be the biggest danger to Truth, an unbeaten son of Heavenly Blue out of  a Frankel mare – and part owned by Gary Payer golf fans. He won on debut at Turffontein by over four lengths (third and fifth have won since), and followed that with a furth success at the same track when upped to this trip, and by over seven lengths. Gavin Lerena rides him once more, and they clearly gets on well which is a positive, and he may well prove to be the best horse in training with Candice Dawson with the potential there is more to follow.

Race Eight 5.00pm – Ridgemont Garden Province Stakes Grade 1

On the ratings Double Grand Slam has a little to find with Rascova here, but having had a morning with Justin Snaith, I don’t think her trainer shares that view!  A three-year-old daughter of Vercingetorix out of a Captain Al mare, she would struggle to be any more South African bred and is, I can personally vouch for, a feisty little madame when she wants to be! That may mean me avoiding being munched on during a stable visit, but she certainly has the character to win and an “I won’t be beaten “ attitude which I see as a real positive. Three wins from her last four starts and a glowing reference from her handler will do for me and she looks the likeliest winner here despite a long list of decent rivals.

Race Seven 4.00pm  – Hollywood Bets Durban July Grade 1

I like to save the best to last and having spoken to leading trainers Michael Roberts, Dean Kannemeyer, and Justin Snaith for their opinions, it comes to the nitty gritty and a decision as to who I will be backing come Saturday afternoon. As this is a handicap (think Africa’s Melbourne Cup) it’s not as “easy” to solve as a level weights contest with the dreaded handicapper taking a view and potentially upsetting the proverbial applecart. I would love to watch See It Again come home in front and I will be cheering him on as I feel he is the likeliest winner – assuming he gets a clear run of course. Last year saw his weight as too much considering he was a three-year-old but he still finished second, and although not exactly overjoyed with his mark for 2024, I sensed plenty of optimism from trainer Michael Roberts about his chances.  Equally happy with the draw (amazingly the 10 stall was exactly what they wanted – and what they got), and with Michael such a nice guy who could never be begrudged a win here, I am more than plain hopeful that he will come home in front if his trainer has him peaked for the moment as I suspect.

Sadly, the 4/1 for See It Again cannot be called the value call but he will represent the win part of my hoped for profits, with an each way saver on young Rachel to back it up.  Lets’ not forget, racing is a hot-bed for fairytales and who is to say she cannot add to thatl sit here? She will now be on board Justin Snaith’s Hluhluwe after the late withdrawal of Without Question from the same barn, and although that still leaves the yard with three runners, I just got the feeling that he takes pride of place. I sensed slight annoyance that the three-year-old Trippi gelding hadn’t got into the original field, but that must have been coupled with a sense of relief that he only has to race off a lower mark. Gelded to bring about the best in him, his last run can be ignored, and on form he has every chance – had he been drawn higher than the three stall he would have been my main fancy, but as things stand an each way punt at a much bigger price seems the best way forward,

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