Africa’s Greatest Horseracing Event
Throughout the world there are special events that capture the imagination and interest of a nation and in South Africa it is the acclaimed horserace, the Grade 1 Vodacom Durban July run at Hollywoodbets Greyville Racecourse in Durban that carries that iconic status.
Internationally acknowledged as Africa’s Greatest Horseracing Event, the Vodacom Durban July has been run without interruption every year since Saturday, July 17, 1897 when Campanajo crossed the line first in the Durban Turf Club Handicap over 1600m on the Western Vlei at Greyville Racecourse.
About 3 000 people attended the first meeting and never dreamt that in years to come it would grow to a point where a crowd of 50 000 plus was the norm. On one occasion the gates had to be closed for security reasons after full capacity has been reached.
And, just as the ladies at that very first meeting were dressed up in their finest outfits, Vodacom Durban July day for the last few decades has become the leading fashion and entertainment event of the year in the country with visitors and media from overseas making special trips to Durban to enjoy the “July experience” or report on the greatest racing event on the African continent.
While it is a day of excitement, fashion and entertainment, it is all about the finest thoroughbreds in the country coming together for the greatest challenge of their careers. For the horses, the jockeys, the trainers, the owners and the grooms, it is the pinnacle of their racing experience just to be involved in the race and the debate about which of the many entries can lift the ultimate prize begins when the first entries are received with the intensity of the debate growing steadily to fever pitch as the big day approaches.
Many great thoroughbreds have competed over the years from many of the most famous stables and ridden by the finest jockeys of their generation.
The most famous of the July’s historic winners is no doubt the great Sea Cottage. Few will not remember, or have not heard, the story of the mighty Sea Cottage who fell prey to a sniper’s bullet on his way to an early morning training session just a few weeks ahead of the 1966 July. With the bullet lodged in his hind quarter, Sea Cottage ran the race of his life to finish fourth behind winning stable mate Java Head. A year later Sea Cottage came back with an uninterrupted prep to dead-heat with Jollify, to whom he was conceding an astonishing 12 kgs.
Only 6 horses have ever won the “July” twice, the most recent being the Justin Snaith-trained and aptly named Do It Again in 2018 & 2019. Prior to that, the Geoff Woodruff inmate, El Picha, became the first horse in 50 years to achieve the double when winning in 1999 & 2000. The very talented London News skated home in the 100th running of the “July”, before embarking on an ambitious International campaign which saw Alec Laird’s charge capture the QE 11 Cup at Shatin Racecourse in Hong Kong the following year.
Fillies and Mares have found the winners’ enclosure on just 13 occasions over the 124-year history of the race. This century, the fairer sex have been successfully represented by Ipi Tombe (2002), Dancer’s Daughter (2008) and Igugu (2011).
The argument as to which “July” winner deserves the mantle of the “Greatest of all Time” continues to rage amongst racing fans, but few would deny that Sea Cottage ranks right up there with the best of them.
In recent years trainer Justin Snaith has won the Vodacom Durban July on five occasions and is well set up to perhaps equal, or even surpass, the legendary Syd Laird’s record of seven “July” winners. In his day Terrance Millard fell one short of Laird’s mark while South Africa’s globe-trotting Mike de Kock sits fourth on the trainers’ Roll of Honour with four winners to his credit.
Anton Marcus leads the way as far as the jockeys are concerned with five victories to his name. The evergreen champion Piere Strydom has recorded four victories but has indicated that this year’s “July” may be his last in an outstanding career which has seen him score more than 5500 winners. He has signalled his intention to retire from the saddle following the 2021 Vodacom Durban July. Anthony Delpech suffered a career-ending injury two seasons back but can look back with pride on four “July” winners while Syd Laird’s two famous riders, Bertie Hayden and Robbie Sivewright, rode three and two winners respectively.
Certainly, an iconic race and an occasion that stands head and shoulders above all others with a supporting programme of top racing that includes the Grade 1 Jonsson Workwear Garden Province Stakes for fillies and mares over 1 600m under ‘weight-for-age’ conditions. This is one of the most important races for fillies and mares in the country and the result could have a major impact on the annual national awards.
With just 18 runners taking part in the big race on the first Saturday in July, there is another 2200 metre event on the card in which those that missed the cut can compete. There have been occasions when the winner of this race has posted a quicker time than the winner of the big race itself.
Two very important races on the card are the Durban Golden Horseshoe and the Zulu Kingdom Explorer Golden Slipper, Grade 2 races for juveniles over 1 400m that follow on from the 1 200m sprints for two-year-olds at Scottsville on Golden Horse Sprint Raceday and before the Premiers Champion Stakes and Thekwini Stakes, Grade 1 races over 1600m on the last Saturday in July that closes the season’s programme for the two-year-olds.
Adding to the diversity of the day’s programme is the Grade 3 Gold Vase over 3000m catering for the stayers that could also bid for glory in the country’s premier marathon event, the Gold Cup over 3 200m on the last Saturday in July.
The Vodacom Durban July is the race around which the country’s racing industry revolves, the race that put South African racing on the international map and the race that has gained international recognition as the showcase of the country’s standard of thoroughbred.
And yes, it is the most exciting and entertaining racing event in Africa and, if you have not been before, you have just got to be there this time.