Durban July wide open
Hilton Hasson - MBet
Cape Town - With just days to go until the biggest racing and social event of the SA horse racing calendar, I thought it would be good to pen something for those of you who may have an interest in the R3 million Greyville extravaganza.
In retrospect, this is definitely not a vintage field by any stretch of the imagination, but that's what makes this year's race all the more interesting and difficult to find a stand out winner.
With a 19-strong field, nearly all competitors have made some sort of claim over the past year, but the Greyville 2 200m course is not the easiest, with the home straight one of the shortest in the country, and this is where pace and luck, a whole lot of luck, will need to be measured perfectly.
Top of the boards at 28/10 is the 3-year-old wonder filly, Igugu. Trained by world champion conditioner Mike de Kock, ridden by Anthony Delpech, and in the ownership of Sheik Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, Igugu will be looking to give this combination it's second successive July win after recording victory with Bold Silvano in 2010.
The Australian import has been heads and tails above her opposition, posting seven wins and second second places from just nine racecourse outings, and averaging a winning distance of five lengths in her last four races.
On face value, she looks the worthy favourite, but the bear form of her victories does point to a lack of depth, and with a carded weight of 55kg, she may be carrying just one or two kilograms more than she should to make her a solid selection.
Bravura (9/2) graduated from one of the country's best generations of 3-year-olds last year, and after winning all five of his races, was forced out of racing for 10 months with what was, at the time, a career threatening injury. His comeback has been solid, if not sparkling, and his last two runs, over distances short of his best shows that the Silvano gelding may have timed his prep just right. Drawn perfectly at 11 and set to be ridden by the country's best jockey in Anton Marcus, Bravura is in with a top chance.
Galileo's Destiny (7/1) is the second of De Kock's July quintet, and an eye catching pre-race gallop has seen the 3-year-old gelding shorten drastically in the betting from 12/1. Kevin Shea, the pilot of Galileo's Destiny has made no bones about the fact that he believes the race will be fought out between Igugu and his mount, although there will be a question mark about whether the New Zealand bred horse falls just below the country's best performers, having failed to win a Group 1 race in six attempts.
Super Storm (11/1) is the very well weighted 4-year-old from the yard of top trainer Mike Bass. The locally bred Rakeen gelding avoided a penalty for his Grade 3 win and Clairwood three weeks ago after easily accounting for Galileo's Destiny, among others, and therefore comes into the race nicely handicapped and well drawn at 9. He should be running on also rates a decent money chance.
Many people's enigma, Past Master (15/1) will line up on Saturday in a rare bid to hoist both the J&B Met and July titles in the same year. He is, by far, the most versatile horse in the country, and arguably the classiest, but does have a disturbing habit of posting inconsistent performances. He does, however, put his best forward when it counts most, evidence of which was seen on Met day, when he slammed a pretty decent field just weeks after a dismal Queens Plate effort. He won a 1 400m race, at Greyville, on his comeback and followed that up with a less than eye catching ninth in the Grade 1 Gold Challenge at Clairwood, so chances are he will be fit and ready come Saturday. He does come into the event with an unprecedented 60kg to shoulder, but horses carry weight because they've earned it, and if he can rise to the challenge, he could be well on his way to re-writing the history books.
Castlethorpe (25/1) is yet another 3-year-old contender, and inmate of the Bass stable, who looks to have a decent chance. With a remarkable turn of foot, a quality that will stand him in good stead on a narrow circuit, Castlethorpe will now be looking to his mother's breeding in the hope of staying the 2 200m. He was badly ridden in his last start when he was taken to the front, eventually fading to finish three lengths behind the winner, Dancewiththedevil and second-placed Bravura, but a 3kg turnaround in the weights and a more patient ride could very well give his big race chances a boost. He won a Greyville 1 600m earlier in the season, albeit on objection, but he has shown that he will be course suited.
Daily News 2000 winner, The Apache (16/1) was not really a consideration at the beginning of June, but his victory in the most coveted 3-year-old race on the calendar has silenced many doubters in the run up to the July. He has already accounted for Galileo's Destiny this season and recorded three wins at Greyville. His worst effort did come in soft conditions, so should the rain stay away on Saturday, expect The Apache to be running on at the business end of the race.
Run For It (10/1), English Garden (15/1) and Pierre Jourdan (10/1) make up the rest of the runners who look to have the most serious chances of parading the coveted July sash.
Run For It ran a whisker behind The Apache in The Daily News and meets his rival on identical weight terms. He is drawn 14 though, and that may just make the difference in a race that is usually fraught with traffic problems.
English Garden is another who ran on in The Daily News. His quarter-length third and a half kilogram weight advantage will also see him in the thick of things while Pierre Jourdan was on the brink of recording the first Triple Crown since the great Horse Chestnut, only to see sticky underfoot conditions scupper his chances. He has had a very calculated preparation, which has seen him run close up seconds in his last two starts, and the step up to 2 200m may play into the hands of the Gauteng challenger who will be partnered by multiple Hong Kong champion jockey Dougie Whyte.
So that rounds up the probable winners. To be honest, I am very wary to tip any of the 3-year-olds as I believe this year's 4-year-old contingent holds the key. If conditions had entailed that the ceiling weight was 58kg, I would be very confident in tipping Past Master as a worthy July winner. His Met win was absolutely brilliant and, to be honest, he could well have won by more than 1.25 length margin suggests. His preparation hasn't been too convincing, but I have already said that he has the BMT of a true champion and knows just where and when to put his best foot forward. Bravura is definitely on the mend and is starting to show why he was so touted as a star 3-year-old. Even though he has never raced at Greyville, in Anton Marcus, he has a jockey that is no stranger to July success and Bravura will receive all the assistance necessary to give him a cracking chance. Super Storm will be another 4-year-old looking for glory. He is peaking at the right time and is weighted better than in any of his previous starts.
As for Igugu - well, she may be better than we all think and will be looking to emulate Ipi Tombe's success as a rare 3-year-old filly victor. Even under the care of one of the greatest trainers this country has ever seen, and a combination that breeds on success, this race could be just one step too far, though. Everything will have to go just right for her, but in the Durban July, it rarely does.
Much will depend of the pace, and if the gallop is strong, stamina will play a huge part. With so few competitors having contested this distance, class will ultimately determine which horse has that added will to win, and if that is the case, then Past Master is a worthy candidate.
A lot will say that a horse carrying 60kg can't win the July, but like I said earlier, he has earned the right to carry that weight and wear saddle cloth No 1, and just for that, even though history may be against him, there could be no denying the worthiness of a July success.
Click HERE for the latest MBet odds on Saturday's Vodacom Durban July