African Night Sky, the ruling 2-1 Vodacom Durban July favourite, did little to set the average punter’s hearts aflutter at the official July gallops at Greyville early today (Thursday), being held to a steady canter throughout the exercise and posting the slowest time among the 13 big race candidates on show at the central Durban venue.
However, despite the nonchalance of what became little more than an occasion to stretch his legs and breath the crispy early morning air, the four-year-old son of the former July winner and one of the country’s prolific sires of top horses Dynasty, did look an absolute picture. With head tucked in as big-race rider Grant van Niekerk moved him into a canter at the start, his ears were pricked and with an air of confident authority he moved beautifully through the gallop looking ready to take on the world.
The seven other horses carded for the R4.25-million African showpiece to be run over 2 200m at the Theatre of Champions in about 10 days time on July 7, completed their official appearances at tracks on the Highveld where they are currently stables with the gallops being televised on Tellytrack.
Generally, little could be gathered from any of the workouts other than the fact that the 18 official runners and the two reserves –Pack Leader and Crowd Pleaser – were fit and ready for action, all looking in fine fettle and moving smoothly and smartly through their work.
Those working at Greyville were all timed and it was the four-year-old Toreador gelding Matador Man from the Sean Tarry stable, winner of the KZN Breeders Million Mile last year and third-placed in the recent World Sports Betting 1900, that produced the strongest work to record times of 44.64 secs from the 800m mark to the finish and 22.54 secs over the final 400m. The gelding had been carded to run in the KZN Breeders Million Mile at Greyville this Saturday but was scratched after being confirmed as a July runner.
While Justin Snaith’s African Night Sky and stable companions Elusive Silva, Star Express and Made To Conquer were not asked to extend themselves in their gallops, the fifth member of the Snaith team and second favourite for the big event, Do It Again, was allowed by his official July rider Anton Marcus to stretch out after changing legs at the top of the home straight.
The three-year-old Twice Over gelding clocked the second fastest 400m to finish time of 22.69 secs and both former jockey Kevin Shea and trainer Paul Lafferty, that were officially commenting on the gallops, noted that it was a very good gallop and the gelding, according to Shea, was “a lovely mover.”
The gallops saw the first appearance in some years of one of South Africa’s greatest jockeys, “the Guv” Jeff Lloyd, who partnered his big race ride, the Lonsdale Stirrup Cup winner Made To Conquer in the early morning work. Another son of Dynasty, the four-year-old gelding has won six of his last seven races and in a brief interview afterwards, Lloyd suggested that he was a “laid back” individual that was still developing and would be an even better horse when maturing in about six months time.
Lloyd, who has been racing in Australia for a number of years, is making his final bid to win the race for the first time having finished in the placings many times. He has confirmed that he will retire from the saddle at the end of the year.