Winning the Vodacom Durban July would be a dream come true for Duncan Howells, the only “local” trainer represented at Greyville on Saturday in this year’s race.
“It’s a race every trainer wishes he could win – it makes you work harder every day when you have a horse good enough to run in the July,” said Howells. “And being KwaZulu-Natal-based, it’s a race I really want to win. I hold it in higher regard than any other race in South Africa.
“That said, it’s not the be-all and end-all. You’ve got to take what happens in stride and live with it. As long as you know in your heart you’ve given your horse the best preparation you can.
“There’s a lot of argy-bargy on a narrow racecourse. So you can have your horse prepared to a tee but it doesn’t always work out.”
He believes both his runners this year, Ten Gun Salute and Saratoga Dancer, are primed and ready to re in the 2200m Grade 1 race.
He’s had three July runners in the past, Tropical Empire (10th behind Big City Life in 2009) and his two representatives this year ran for the stable a year ago, with Saratoga Dancer finishing fifth and Ten Gun Salute eighth.
At 10-1, Ten Gun Salute is again the be er fancied of the duo and Howells concedes the bookmakers’ prices are a fair reflection of his own perceptions of the horses’ relative chances. However, he does say: “It depends on which horse rocks up at the racecourse because Ten Gun Salute is a very temperamental horse.”
He continued: “I’ve always thought he would run in front of Saratoga Dancer and five times out of six I’ve been wrong! I could be wrong again.”
Since last year’s July Saratoga Dancer has finished ahead of Ten Gun Salute in one minor race as well as the Charity Mile, the Summer Cup and the Drill Hall Stakes.
“Their record speaks for itself,” said Howells.
However, he concedes he made a lot of mistakes with Ten Gun Salute in the July last year because of the draw. “We decided to go forward and he pulled very hard, over-raced for most of the race. In the circumstances I thought he ran a very good race.”
Howells believes his unmanageable coltish behaviour cost him dearly in the Charity Mile and the Summer Cup.
“He was off his head and pulled a shoe before the Charity Mile and in the Summer Cup, he was pulling far too hard. He battled to take the turn and galloped into other horses. As for the Drill Hall Stakes, he was unsound afterwards.
“We’ve learnt to allow this horse to run his own race,” he continued. “Temperamentally Ten Gun Salute has improved since being gelded (in December last year) and is starting to mature as a four-year-old.”
There is only one jockey Ten Gun Salute respects and that is Muzi Yeni, who owners Mrs H Kuhn and Red Jack Trading (Pty) Ltd asked to be reinstated. Yeni showed he had the horse’s measure when they won the Be ing World 1900 last time out and will be aboard on Saturday.
“I’m expecting quite an even gallop. The faster they go the better. Then we won’t have problems trying to settle him. He stays exceptionally well. There will be horses in the wrong position – I hope he’s not one of them.”
He concluded: “Ten Gun Sa- lute’s preparation has gone really well since the Betting World 1900 and I though his gallop at Greyville last Thursday was good. There’s nothing more I can do for him. He is not a horse who takes much work, so he’ll do very light work this week.”