With 58 entries announced for this year’s Vodacom Durban July, it’s time again for an ante-post punt on a horse which on the big day is likely to start many points shorter.
My last two forays have seen Liege finish fourth in the Sansui Summer Cup (14-1 when he was recommended) and Deo Juvente for last year’s July.
Holding a 20-1 place voucher about Geoff Woodruff’s charge, you can imagine my thoughts about the Gold Circle panel when they didn’t invite the former Summer Cup runner-up.
After a close look at the entries I’ve come up with a real longshot – Duncan Howells’ Aussie-bred four-year-old, Ten Gun Salute.
The beauty about Ten Gun Salute – as well as his stablemate Saratoga Dancer – is that they’ve both missed the Cape and Highveld Autumn campaigns.
Consequently they’ll go into the KZN season fresh horses.
Both Howells horses ran in the 2016 July with Saratoga Dancer finishing 2,40 lengths behind The Conglomerate and Ten Gun Salute 3,25 lengths behind.
As things stand at present, “Ten Gun” will be two kilos better off with his stablemate this time.
My second choice for an early punt is going to raise a few eyebrows – it’s Candice Bass-Robinson’s Majorca Stakes winner, Nightingale.
Yes, the Grade 1 races for females are the obvious targets for a filly who has grabbed the limelight from stablemate Silver Mountain, but it’s surely significant that Nightingale figures among the entries.
While Candice is some R9- million adrift of Sean Tarry in the trainers’ log, she’s made a pretty good fist of her first season and is in fourth place behind Sean, Justin Snaith and Brett Crawford.
How she’d love to win the July with her first runner.
Looking at the horses at the top of the July entries, many have questions to be answered.
Top of the list is Marinaresco – last year’s fast-finishing runner-up – but hugely disappointing in the Cape particularly in the Sun Met.
I hope I won’t upset my close friend Chris van Niekerk but feel French Navy’s best days are behind him and much prefer his filly, Trophy Wife.
Master Sabina is high in the weights and looks a better horse on home turf so Master Switch may be Geoff Woodruff’s best entry.
He looked highly temperamental last term so the worry would be whether the hurly-burly of July Day would get him boiling over again
Sean Tarry has a massive 16 entries and – at this stage – I’d prefer Safe Harbour to either Al Sahem or Smiling Blue Eyes.
Also, don’t write off Furiosa – he’s a winner over 1800m and was doing his best work late in the Classic.
Justin Snaith has nine on the list including Bela-Bela, Black Arthur and Copper Force – not a trio to get excited about in my book.
However, definitely on my short-list would be SA Classic winner, Heavenly Blue. The way the grey cruised past his rivals in the 1800m Grade 1 race suggested he’d get the July trip despite being out of a mare who only won over 1600m.
Although the prize money is peanuts to what his charges can earn in Dubai, I still believe Mike de Kock gets a kick out of winning SA’s most famous race. Who will ever forget him jumping aboard Ipi Tombe after her triumph?
A huge pointer to the big race is the choice of mounts of top jockeys: Gavin Lerena, S’manga Khumalo, Anton Marcus, Anthony Delpech and Piere Strydom.
After a couple of weeks when winners were hard to come by, Gavin hit a four-timer at Turffontein on Saturday and will be on the lookout for a good July ride.
With Anton confined to Markus Jooste’s horses, the two guys with four July winners apiece, Anthony and Piere, can shop around and both are sure to be inundated with offers.
So I’m taking the season to take off for Duncan Howells whose patient policy with his two best horses might just reap a rich dividend in our own version of “a race that stops a nation.”