Racing at the Vaal.
For one thing, it is the biggest race on the South African calendar – in terms of field size and a few other measures.
The starter has the daunting job of getting 28 runners away in a line; the commentator has identify each of them and rattle through all the names during the 1475m charge; and the judge must sort out who’s who as bunches of horses flash by the post on the inside, outside and middle of the track.
The aim is to give middling-talent horses a shot at feature-race glory and decent prize money. The upshot of the race conditions is a wide range of merit ratings and form, a mash-up of sprinters and milers, raiders and locals, youth and older horses – and a daunting challenge for seekers of the winner.
The ante-post betting market tells us all about the competitiveness of the R500,000, Non-Black Type battle: only two horses are at single-figure odds.
Thus, the World Sports Betting Grand Heritage is one of the biggest challenges that punters will face all year. But it means it’s also big in terms of return on bet investment.
Unfortunately, there are also big uncertainties in terms of the weather.
With rain saturating the Highveld this week – and one race meeting already abandoned – there is some doubt we’ll see the spectacle of 28 horses charging down the Vaal straight this weekend.
Last year, a waterlogged Vaal track saw the event rebranded as “The Grand Series”, with two heats run at Turffontein and a third, match-race, between the two winners.
The winner of that protracted process, Paul Matchett-trained Dan The Lad, is back to defend his title, but, with odds of 25-1, there is no great expectation of him doing so.
Joint favourites at 7-1 are Riverstown and Fired Up – with trainer-jockey combos of Paul Peter-Warren Kennedy and Mike de Kock-Diego de Gouveia.
Visiting trainers lured upcountry by this quirky contest are Port Elizabeth stalwart Gavin Smith with Hooves of Troy (28-1); and Tony Rivalland and Glen Kotzen from Durban with Desolate Road (28-1) and Elusive Heart (25-1) respectively.
Sean Tarry is down to saddle nine of the 28 contestants, four of which are near the top of the betting boards. Following a very successful Summer Cup meeting last week, this stable is in red-hot form and it will be no surprise to see money come for the likes of Social Order (12-1 on Friday) and Aurelia Cotta (15-1).
Social Order will be ridden by Gavin Lerena, who won this race in 2016 and 2017 and knows how to negotiate his way through the mob mayhem as it rolls towards the line.
Social Order shares the 60kg top weight with Elusive Heart – both with merit ratings of 105 after performing respectably in top company. In the middle of the handicap are 104-rated three-year-olds Hooves Of Troy and Riverstown, with imposts of 53.5kg, while MR 89 four-year-olds Sea Air (28-1) and Epic Dream (45-1) carry bottom weight of 52kg.
Whichever way you look at the Grand Heritage, it’s an enticing prospect calling for some lateral thinking in structuring one’s wagers.
7-1 Riverstown, Fired Up
12-1 Social Order
13-1 Russian Beat
15-1 Aurelia Cotta
16-1 Florida Quays, Cordillera
18-1 Ancient Spirit
20-1 Gimme Hope Johanna
25-1 Elusive Heart, Captain Of Tortuga, Dan The Lad
28-1 Desolate Road, Against The Grain, Bien Venue, Hooves Of Troy, Sea Air
35-1 Regal Graduation, Rouge Allure, Full Mast, Lone Survivor
40-1 D’Arrivee, Finchatton
45-1 Royal Italian, Epic Dream
66-1 Premier Show
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