The race was first run in 1897 and was contested over 1 mile (approx 1600m) for a stake of 500 sovereigns.
The Race Distance
In 1906 the distance changed to 1 mile 68 yards (approx 1670m), in 1913 to 1 mile 1 furlong (approx 1800m), in 1915 to 1/4 miles (approx 2000m) and remained so until 1940.
In1941 the distance was changed to 1 mile 2 1/4 furlongs (approx 2100m) and it was only in 1970 that it was changed to its current distance of 2200m.
Age of the Winners
Two-year-olds – One win only – in 1911.
Three-year-olds – 35 wins but 50% of the last 20 years.
Four-year-olds – 48 wins but 50% of the last 20 years.
Five-year-olds have taken the honours 26 times.
Six-year-olds – 11 have won, the last six-year-old winner was in 1980.
Seven-year-olds have won five times
Only five horses have ever won the July back-to-back.
Milesia Pride (1949/50) and
El Picha (1999/2000)
Do It Again (2018/19).
There have only been two winning dead heats in the history of the race. The first one took place in 1967 when Jollify and Sea Cottage could not be separated as they passed the post.
2008 saw the crowd favourites locked together in a driving finish for glory. History shows that the mighty Pocket Power and the exceptional filly Dancer’s Daughter crossed the finishing line as one.
10 Years of Democracy
In the year 2004 South Africa celebrated 10 years of democracy and to mark this milestone all horses wearing the Number 10 saddlecloth in any race staged by Gold Circle for the entire year, carried a South African flag incorporating the number 10 on their saddlecloth.
As if to frank this milestone, Africa’s greatest horseracing event, the Vodacom Durban July of 2004, was won by Greys Inn wearing the Number 10 saddlecloth proudly emblazoned with the South African flag.
The Biggest and Smallest Fields
The maximum field size was increased in 2003 to 20. However, the biggest July field ever was in 1917, when 33 horses went to the start. On the other hand, the smallest July fields were in 1897 and 1908, when only seven horses ran.
The Most Runs
The three horses which have had the most runs in the Vodacom Durban July, are Gondolier, Beau Art and Flaming Rock. Gondolier ran five times in the race. In 1983 he finished second; in 1984 he took fifth place; 1985 was victory at last as a 5-year-old; in 1986 he filled sixth place; and in his last run in the race in 1987 he secured seventh position.
Running in the race five times, Beau Art was 6th in 1977; ran second in 1978; was 5th in 1979; won the race in 1980; and was ran 8th in 1981.
The Irish import Flaming Rock ran in the race four times before being retired to stud. He won at his first attempt in 1991; was unplaced in 1992; finished third in 1993 and second in 1994
I Object Your Honour!!
The objection in 1931, lodged by the connections of Spilsby, against the 50/1 winner Agrippa, on the grounds of crossing, was overruled.
The objection laid against the winner, St. Seiriol, in 1945, for bumping and boring, was overruled.
The objection lodged on behalf of Distinctly, against Gatecrasher, in 1975, was upheld with the horse that had finished second, Principal Boy, being awarded the race.
In 1979 Over The Air, won beating Sun Tonic and All The Aces. The objection hooter sounded soon after the horses crossed the line with the connections of the fourth-placed horse, Deep Magic, objecting against the second placed horse Sun Tonic. The grounds of the protest were crossing and taking up his running in the latter stages, and it was overruled.
In 1994 the objection lodged on behalf of Pas De Quoi which finished fifth, against the winner Surfing Home, was upheld. The incident happened at approximately the 300-metre mark, where Surfing Home shifted inwards crossing Pas De Quoi who was forced to check and switch out to obtain a clean run. Then at the 100-metre mark Surfing Home shifted outwards resulting in Pas De Quoi being forced to check and lose position. Space Walk, who ran second, was declared the winner.
In 2014 the objection hooter sounded shortly after the neck and neck finish with Legislate ultimately being awarded the race. At the top of the straight Legislate moved in to challenge Wylie Hall and these two fought side by side to the line. However, after giving Wylie Hall an initial bump, Wylie Hall began shifting out and slowly carried Legislate across the track making contact on at least three occasions.
In 2015 the objection hooter sounded again with the rider of the second placed horse PUNTA ARENAS objecting against the winner, POWER KING, on the grounds of interference in the latter stages. After considering the evidence and the patrol video, the objection was overruled.
The “scorecard” for July objections stands as follows: Seven lodged with four overruled and three upheld.
Oh the name, it’s a changing!!
Over the years the name of the race has undergone several changes. It was known as the Durban Winter Handicap from its inception in 1897. In 1928, it become the Durban July Handicap, but once again reverted to its original name during the war years; from 1943 through 1945. Re-instated as the Durban July Handicap in 1946, the race stuck with this name until 1963, when Rothmans entered the sponsorship arena. The race was known as the Rothmans July Handicap until 1989, when the conditions for the race were changed. Thereafter it was simply known as the Rothmans July. Rothmans was reluctant to end its association with this great race, but the new tobacco laws of the country forbade it and sadly the longest running sponsorship of a major sporting event came to an end in 2000 after its 38th year. 2001 saw the race being run simply as the Durban July and in 2002 Vodacom announced its powerful association with Africa’s Greatest Horseracing Event, now entrenched as the Vodacom Durban July.
How the Favourites have fared
The shortest priced winning favourite in the 121-year history of the Vodacom Durban July, was the legendary Sea Cottage. He started at odds of 11/10 in 1967, when getting up on the line to dead heat with Jollify.
The finish unquestionably rates as the most exciting ever, with the crowd going mad as the two horses flashed across the line locked together. There were emotion packed scenes while the hordes of racegoers speculated on the judge’s decision, with Robbie Sivewright on Sea Cottage, going into the number two box. Young John Gorton, on Jollify, made straight for the winner’s enclosure, with his co-owner, the late Douglas Saunders, saying “Wait for the result . . . . . .wait for the result.”
Gorton’s only error was in believing that he had emerged a clear winner. Apart from this, the 21-year-old jockey, who won the Epsom Oaks on Sleeping Partner two years later, rode what trainer Fred Rickaby described as a “perfect race”. The 2 lb. overweight which Jollify carried, however, may just have made the difference between winning and deadheating.
A fitting postscript to that dramatic finish, was the presentation made by the Durban Turf Club to Jack Bradford, the handicapper. He was given a gold watch, suitably inscribed to commemorate his feat of bringing off a handicapper’s dream – a dead heat in a major handicap.
The honour of being the longest priced favourite to win the Vodacom Durban July is now shared by the 2006 winner Eyeofthetiger and the 1985 winner Gondolier who both started at 6 to 1. Gondolier however paid more for a One Rand win on the tote – R9.00 vs the R7.40 returned by Eyeofthetiger.
In 1996 the popular London News won at 14/10, the same price that Dynasty won at in 2003.
Prior to the sixties, the longest priced favourite was Blackmoor, in 1934, who started at 7/1, and finished unplaced in a field of 17 runners.
2008’s finish featured the favourite Pocket Power at 28/10 in a winning dead heat with the 2nd favourite Dancer’s Daughter at 8/1, and in 2011 the three-year-old filly Igugu triumphed as the 2/1 favourite.
Many punters plumb for greys, and in 2008 their ships came home with Dancer’s Daughter in a winning dead heat with Pocket Power. Previously only four greys have ever won the race. The exquisite Thunder Sky was a popular fancy the year Kerason won, and Bodrum was a beaten favourite in 1985. Only Silver Phantom in 1942, Jamaican Music in 1976 and Jamaican Rumba in 1982, together with Right Prerogative in 1989, have been successful.
In 2005 the three-year old Greys Inn triumphed. Unfortunately for those who follow greys he was only grey by name being a beautiful dark bay colt.
The Fillies and the Mares
Fillies (female horses up to 4 years old) or mares (5 year and older female horses) have won this great race on 13 occasions. Peerless, a three-year-old, was the first to take line honours in 1903. Margin won in 1916, Collet in 1922, Eunomea in 1923 and Moosme in 1926. It was not until 1951 that a filly was to win again and this was when Gay Jane, in the partnership colours of Dennis Labistour and Miss Molly Reynolds, brought smiles to the faces of thousands of female punters.
Migraine scored for the ladies in 1957, Diza scooted home for Frank and Jane Lambert in 1962, and then more than 20 years were to elapse before Tecla Bluff was to score in the colours of Sydney Press, in 1983.
The very next year trainer Terrance Millard pulled off the race with a filly again, with the redoubtable Devon Air for the Scott brothers.
For trainer Mike de Kock the ultimate achievement had yet to be experienced and a number of chances in recent years had failed to succeed. Then in 2002 along came the three-year-old Ipi Tombe to rewrite the record books as the first filly of her age to win since Migraine 45 years earlier in 1957.
The penultimate member of the fairer sex to win this magnificent race was Dancer’s Daughter in 2008 in the memorable dead heat with Pocket Power.
In 2011 short-priced favourite Igugu became the most recent filly to win the Vodacom Durban July in a nail-biting head-to-head with Pierre Jourdan.
In years past, barrier draws have played a significant role in determining the result, but the cambering of the Greyville turn into the home straight has rendered this factor to be of less importance. For the record however, only seven runners drawn on the extreme outside have managed to win since 1917.
They were Kipling in 1940, who was drawn 22; St Pauls in 1946, who was drawn at position 20: Beau Art who overcame barrier position 17 and the superstition that four white socks are the kiss of death for a racehorse, to romp home with Freddie Macaskill on board, in 1980. In 1991 the imported Flaming Rock started from stall gate 20 and unwound a devastating finish to win by a long head.
Then, in 1998, Classic Flag did the impossible when starting from stall gate 18. He came from well off the pace then galloped away from his rivals to post an emphatic win. The three-year-old clocked a new race and course record time in the process.
In 2003 Dynasty broke from the extreme outside draw at 20 and, fighting for his head and racing wide in the early stages, his task for a three-year-old carrying 53kg was a tough one. But, after finally settling down he produced an incredible finishing burst in the straight to get up and beat Yard-Arm by nearly a length.
In 2012 Pomodoro got up on the line in a driving finish from draw 20.
2016 saw another winner starting from the outside draw. The Conglomerate, masterfully ridden by Piere Strydom, held off a storming finish by Marinaresco, drawn one from the outside. Interestingly, the rider of Marinaresco, Grant van Niekerk, was also aboard the second placed horse, Smanjemanje in 2012 . . . . also, behind Piere Strydom!!
13 – Lucky for some!!
You don’t have to be brilliant to back a winner – particularly if you’re a rugby enthusiast. Just have a look at 1960. In an international rugby match the Saturday before the Durban July Handicap of that year, left wing Hennie van Zyl scored both tries for the Springboks wearing the number 13 jersey and the final score was 13 nil.
You guessed it. One week later Left Wing, wearing the number 13 saddlecloth, won the Durban July Handicap.