It was a fairytale finish on a magical day when a little guy with a big heart and a blistering turn of foot defied the effects of top weight to win Africa’s greatest race, the R4.25-million Vodacom Durban July, and give victory to the first ever lady trainer having her first runner in the iconic event.
It was a storybook tale that could inspire an epic racing movie around a close-knit group that overcame tragedy and with tenacity and outstanding talent emerged as the heroes of the day.
It was the story around the “little guy” Marinaresco and the Bass and Fayd’Herbe families, a Western Cape team that saw patriarch Mike Bass, one of the country’s leading trainers, losing a leg after a near-fatal illness and handing over control to his daughter Candice who took the baton with both hands and ran enthusiastically with it straight into racing history.
Deeply involved in the saga and very much like family, were brothers Robert and Bernard Fayd’Herbe, grandsons of one of the greatest jockeys in South African racing, the legendary Harold “Tiger” Wright, who won the July four times in the 1940s and 50s. Both brothers started out as jockeys with Robert turning to training as an assistant with Mike Bass Racing and Bernard struggling as a heavyweight jockey riding for the stable.
Bernard proved he was one top jockeys in the country and with Mike at the helm the stable enjoyed many successes, notably its wins in the July with Trademark and Dunford and the dead-heat in 2008 with Pocket Power sharing the honours with the filly Dancer’s Daughter.
Then along came the little son of Silvano, Marinaresco, who displayed his talent in winning the Winter Guineas and Winter Derby at Kenilworth. Mike Bass is part owner with Bryn Russell, Marsh Shirtliff and Fred Green and the three-year-old was sent to Durban for the July where under jockey Grant van Niekerk he flew from off the pace to finish second to The Conglomerate by a neck.
He closed off the season by winning the Mike and Carole Bass Champions Cup, the race after which he handed over control to daughter Candice Robinson who now runs the operation, with Mike very much in the background, as the Candice Bass-Robinson Racing.
Returning this year with the highest rating, Marinaresco was allotted top weight of 60kg, a weight that had not been carried to victory in the race since Pamphlet in 1920 who won under 61kg. The biggest winning weight since then was the 59kg shouldered by Monteith in 1944 and the heaviest weights ever carried were by the winner of the first two running of the race, Campanajo, in 1897/98 with 65.5kg and 66kg respectively.
For the smallest horse in the field on Saturday, Marinaresco carried the biggest weight but under a brilliant ride by Bernard he produced an electrifying run down the inside to catch and beat Al Sahem by a head with Edict Of Nantes a neck back in third.
Bernard said that turning for home he felt he had so much horse under him he was just looking for a split to get through and when Marinaresco took off he felt he had a winning chance.
Candice praised Robert for his outstanding work on the gelding and Bernard for his brilliant ride as brother Mark, together with Mike and Carole, looked on proudly.