Tomorrow’s behind-closed-doors Vodacom Durban July will be like no other before it, but Africa’s greatest horse-racing event will lack none of its key ingredients in its new coronavirus-induced cyberspace world.
Some 3,000 people attended the first running of the July back in 1897 and a lot fewer will be at Greyville tomorrow, when the traditional kaleidoscope will be replaced by a bizarre masquerade that is now a norm across the planet.
But the horses have always been the stars of the show and no matter how you consume the Greyville action, it will cram amazing excitement and numerous chances to win huge amounts of cash into an unforgettable six hours.
TAB, the national tote betting operator, has added loads of spice to the brew with six carryover pools at Greyville.
A R2 million Pick 6 carryover is set to generate a total net pool of some R15 million and a R1 million carryover to the Durban July Quartet pool (pick the first four) could have a similar impact.
Cape Town trainer Justin Snaith is hoping to dominate the July and is throwing the kitchen sink and more into his bid to win the race for the fifth time since 2008. He will saddle five of the 18 runners, including flashy stable star Do It Again, who is out to become the first horse to win the July three years in a row.
The fairy tale could come to life. Do It Again was rested after last year’s July and later looked out of sorts during the Cape summer season. But a good third in the recent Gold Challenge indicates that Snaith has solved the five-year-old’s problems at just the right time.
Snaith’s best prospects of success, however, seem to rest with up-and-coming four-year-olds Belgarion and Bunker Hunt, who both get loads of weight from their famous stablemate.
Half the world seems to be tipping Belgarion, who has demolished weaker opposition in the style of a potential champion and will be ridden by stable jockey Richard Fourie.
He’s probably been allotted less weight than should be the case, which strengthens his claim. But this is his first clash with the country’s best thoroughbreds and it remains to be seen how good he really is.
Bunker Hunt’s victory in the 1400m Drill Hall Stakes was straight out of the top drawer and his pedigree suggests he should relish this longer distance. If that proves the case, you shouldn’t have to look any further for the winner. But this contest is no five-piece jigsaw puzzle and an upset is a possibility in what could be a cavalry-charge finish.
Rainbow Bridge, Got The Greenlight, Soqrat, Vardy and trainer Sean Tarry stablemates Shango and Tierra del Fuego are all on my shortlist.