Well known KZN-racing couple Rodney and Jane Trotter had a dream come true when the horse they spelled and own, the Duncan Howells-trained Saratoga Dancer, was included in the Vodacom Durban July final field. It was also a momentous occasion for two other part-owners, passionate KZN-based racing fans Rick and Thora Nidd.
The four-year-old Mambo In Seattle gelding will provide a third July runner for prominent owner Gary Westwater, while Chris Winter as well as Howells himself also own a share each.
Jane Trotter bought the Gary Player Stud-bred Saratoga Dancer at the National Yearling Sales for R95 000 with the aim of selling him on at the Emperor’s Palace Ready To Run Sale. Jane is one of the country’s most respected pre-trainers and backed and prepared him for the latter sale from the Trotter’s Ambleway Thoroughbred Stables farm near Pietermaritzburg.
However, there was not much interest and Howells ended up buying him on behalf of the Trotters for R140 000. The probable reason for the lack of interest was his one knee being offset. However, Jane revealed the horse had not had a single day of unsoundness in his entire life to date. The only reason there have been a couple of gaps in his racing career was due to Howells always believing he would make a better four-year-old.
This year’s July falls exactly 40 years after part-owner Rick Nidds’ equine favourite Jamaican Music won the big race.
Rick recalled standing to win a lot of money on this popular Ralph Rixon-trained grey in 1974 and was so confident he had asked a motor car company to have the car he intended buying with the winnings polished and ready for him to collect the following Monday. In those days Rick and his family used to huddle around the radio to listen to the July and he could not believe what he was hearing when commentator Ernie Duffield broke the news shortly after the start that Jamaican Music had dislodged his jockey.
However, Rick continued to support the courageous grey and had R100 on him in the 1976 July.
The same year of Jamaican Music’s July win, Chris Winter was playing rugby for Natal U20. Chris had followed horseracing since his junior school days and he and his friends often found ways to get their Place Accumulators on. He began buying horses as soon as he could afford them. He had a break from owning for some time, but since coming back ten years ago Howells has always been his trainer.
Rodney Trotter has served for many years on the board of the National Horseracing Authority. Neither Rodney nor Jane were able to assess how good Saratoga Dancer would be on the race track during his spelling period. However, Rodney recalled commentator Sheldon Peters calling Saratoga Dancer “the talk of the town” when he appeared for his second start at Scottsville in September 2014.
He duly won by a comfortable two lengths and a subsequent third in a handicap on the poly was enough to qualify him for the R3,85 million Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup, which was at that stage the richest race ever run in South Africa. He finished a decent 1,5 length sixth, but had a tough race and returned to Ambleway for a rest.
In his second come back run, in a 1600m event on the Greyville turf, he announced himself as a horse who could go to the top as his long stride carried him to an eye-catching victory. He duly won three of his next five starts and was strongly fancied for the Gr 2 Peermont Emperor’s Palace Charity Mile at Turffontein. However, much to the disappointment of connections, he was made first reserve and didn’t get a run.
After another win and a decent third from a wide draw in the Gr 3 Christmas Handicap over 1600m on the Greyville turf, he returned to Ambleway for another rest. In his latest comeback he finished a decent 3,75 length fourth against top class sorts in the Gr 2 Independent On Saturday Drill Hall Stakes over 1400m. His beautiful stride caught the eye when he cantered down to post for his next start in the Gr 3 Cup Trial over 1800m, where he had another wide draw to overcome.
However, at a crucial stage, just as he was winding up into that big stride, he was bumped by a shifting The Conglomerate and was interfered with by the latter for much of the remainder of the straight. An objection saw him promoted from fourth to third, but Howells was downcast, believing his chances of making the July field now to be forlorn.
However, thanks to a few scratching he snuck into the field, although not without some controversy.
Jane Trotter’s intuition at those sales a few years ago had paid dividends beyond her wildest dreams. She has spelled a number of July runners, including narrow runner up Young Rake, but this will be the first July runner she and Rodney have owned.
Saratoga Dancer has won over 2000m before, but Howells does admit the 2200m trip of the July might “stretch him.” He is the lowest rated horse in the race on 95 and has once again had bad luck with the draw, so is not surprisingly the biggest outsider with Betting World at 66/1.
Howells, who also has Ten Gun Salute in the race, has only had one previous July runner. He was happy with Saratoga Dancer’s July gallop and his overall preparation. The best of this horse has likely not been seen and he could surprise a few people. Chris Winter concluded, “Just remember Leicester City won the league!”