The early morning chill didn’t deter the crowds of ardent punters and spectators who lined the home straight at Greyville Racecourse, sussing out the form of South Africa’s best thoroughbreds and trying to determine which of them will storm down the home straight to the finish line of the R4,25 million Vodacom Durban July on Saturday, 2 July.
From 7am horse racing fans watched the eighteen runners and two reserve runners gallop around the track, many of them with stable mates for company, while tucking into some delicious free sticky buns, donuts and steaming hot coffee courtesy of Gold Circle – a favourite of the annual pre-race warm-up.
The handful of Vodacom Durban July runners that are not yet in Durban had their gallops televised on the big screen for the inquisitive punters to complete their comparisons of the field for Africa’s Greatest Horseracing Event.
The public Gallops is a condition of entry for the Vodacom Durban July and over the decades the early morning occasion nine days before the running of the Vodacom Durban July has helped punters get a feel for the form of many of the race’s legends.
The enthusiastic crowds weren’t only given clues on who to pin their hopes on for the country’s most prestigious horse race, but also given pointers on how to dress for race day, with some of the Vodacom Durban July Young Designer and Fashion Challenge finalists watching the thrilling action from the finish post.
The Vodacom Durban July official gallops at Greyville drew a good crowd once again and those that braved the cool of the early winter morning will have been impressed with a number of big race contenders that showed they were fit and ready for the challenge ahead.
As individuals they were all impressive in general appearance and the way they strode out in their work. But one of the most impressive was the Triple Crown winner Abashiri from the Mike Azzie stable. Retired jockey Kevin Shea described his action and stride as “breathtaking” while trainer and former jockey Garth Puller believed his big action may not be in his favour on the tight Greyville track. He felt the colt would be hard-pressed to beat the other three-year-olds in the race at the weights and both agree that under the 59.5kg he had a tough task.
Rabada did not gallop at Greyville because of his Sunday engagement in the KZN Breeders Million Mile. A brief shot of his early morning gallop at Summerveld was shown and did not prove anything. However, both Shea and Puller agreed he was a top-class horse but believed it was a big ask for the colt to perform to his best in the Vodacom Durban July having run in a race just six days before.
Another runner that impressed the panel was the five-year-old Dynasty gelding Solid Speed from the Dean Kannemeyer stable. Shea and Puller emphasised he had had a perfect preparation and had moved well in the gallop and at level weights with the three-year-olds he should have their measure. Shea said he saw him as the horse to beat on July 2.
Kannemeyer said he was pleased with the gallops of Solid Speed and his three-year-old colt Mambo Mime. They worked together and both finished off their gallops strongly.
The two runners from the Joey Ramsden stable The Conglomerate and St Tropez were both ridden in the gallops by Anton Marcus and were given a strong gallop from the 1 400m mark. They looked in magnificent condition and of the runners working on the turf St Tropez set the fastest 400 to finish time of the day in 21.92 secs.
Puller commented that Ramsden had said to him that The Conglomerate was “flying” at home but both he and Shea said he had a tough task from his outside draw. However, he had Piere Strydom in the irons and they felt the 30-1 about him were big odds for a Strydom runner.
St Tropez was seen by both as a “big runner” and he would not be surprised to see Marcus take him to the front where, because of Marcus’ talent on a pacemaker, he could be dangerous.
The Mike Bass-trained Marinaresco made his first appearance in KwaZulu-Natal under big race rider Grant van Niekerk and showed why the stable elected to forsake the final leg of the Cape Winter Series which he could have won but entered him into the country’s premier event instead.
The panel was impressed with the horse and his work but felt he was a feisty individual and had a tough task from his wide draw.
The four runners from the Justin Snaith stable all looked in top condition and both Black Arthur and the filly Bela-Bela impressed in their gallops. The team believed that the filly had a tough task getting only 1kg from the colts and believed that she would likely race up handy from her inside draw and hold her position.
Black Arthur’s wide draw would not be in his favour but he is a “serious” racehorse and he commanded respect on his ability and stamina.
It’s My Turn impressed as an individual but from a wide draw the panel believed he had it all to do. However, he has had a good preparation and had that “come on” look about him and Puller believed he could be right there at the finish.
Both Shea and Puller felt Dynamic would find it difficult to beat his stable companions with Shea saying while his was a good horse he did not have “that wow factor” and he would pass him by as a potential winner.
French Navy from the Sean Tarry stable was seen as one of the horses to beat. He worked with stable companion Samurai Blade and both went a good gallop with French Navy finishing slightly stronger over the final 100m. Shea and Puller saw French Navy as a serious contender in the big race and felt he could start favourite. Puller remarked that the four-year-old Count Dubois gelding “ticked all the boxes” as a possible winner.
Duncan Howells runs Ten Gun Salute and Saratoga Dancer and both worked on their own and produced good gallops. Shea described Ten Gun Salute as a magnificent animal and believed he could finish in the money with Puller commenting that he would need luck in running. Saratoga Dancer they felt “was up against it” and Shea felt that reserve runner Trophy Wife should have got into the race before him.
Mac De Lago from the Weiho Marwing stable worked on the poly with a companion and was impressive in his gallop. He is seen as a runner with a chance and while it would be tough, Puller commented that he would get a top ride from Bernard Fayd’Herbe.
Geoff Woodruff’s charge Master Sabina was filmed in a gallop on the Highveld and did extremely good work with a companion. The panel agreed that he was well-weighted in the race and even though a six-year-old, he could get the better of his younger opponents.
The three-year-old Judpot gelding Rocketball from the Gavin van Zyl yard worked with Silver Spring and played up a little before the start of the gallop showing that he wanted to get on with it. He was kept under a hard hold by Warren Kennedy but put in good work. The panel was a little concerned about his temperament on the big occasion but believed he deserved his spot in the race.
Presenter Paul Lafferty referred to the famous “July Beans” at the end of the discussion and joked that Mike Azzie must have been busy with the watering can as the three tallest beans were, in order of height, Rabada, Abashiri and Mac De Lago.