Ready to give SA a run for its money
With five days to go before the premier racing event in the country gets under way, Liz Clarke spoke to key players involved in this year’s Vodacom Durban July
ENETICS, preparation, a good smattering of luck – those are the ingredients most trainers of thoroughbreds will agree determine the winner of the most prestigious race in the country.
But an event the size of this, attracting upwards of 50 000 spectators, millions of TV viewers the world over and generating a betting frenzy skyrocketing to record levels every year, is bound to be surrounded by robust debate, even controversy.
“It goes with the territory,” said Moses Thembi, vice chairman of Gold Circle, who greeted guests at the glittering final field and draw event at Greyville Race Course on Wednesday.
“We all want the perfect July. That’s why it is important to pull together and respect each others’ points of view.”
With 18 of the country’s thoroughbred jewels on display, it’s not surprising the state of the track at Greyville is, as always, a major talking point because of the risks to horse and rider.
Marketing executive Graeme Hawkins said the course was in better condition than last year when the drought was at its worst.
“We have done our preparation a little differently. Instead of watering the surface during the months of September and October, which we have always done in the past, we moved that to January and February. Although it meant no turf racing at Greyville for a few weeks it was definitely the best decision.”
Hawkins said maintaining the quality of the turf during the dry winter months in KwaZulu-Natal was always a challenge.
“If we had the July in January it would be a lot less challenging. But then it wouldn’t be the July would it?”
He said at Greyville in winter the cynoden grass takes over from the kikuyu, which results in a mixture of green and brown turf.
“To look at, it’s not so pleasing – but it makes the underlying surface stable and certainly fit for racing.”
While trainers like Mike de Kock have been critical of the surface, Hawkins said endorsements by the National Horseracing Authority and top trainers like Dennis Drier should put the critics to rest.
Another big talking point this year was the impact of allegedly toxic fumes from the Enviroserve hazardous waste site at Shongweni, which many believed was affecting thoroughbreds stabled at the nearby Summerveld equestrian centre.
Trainer Tony Rivalland, in charge of the training facility, said the increase in the number of horses experiencing nosebleeds at the beginning of the year was a concern.
“We cannot prove that it was due to pollutants but since the closure of Enviroserv the fumes have not been so noticeable. So we are just holding thumbs.”
The weight a horse must carry for the big race is a hot topic, particularly when it comes to a prestige event like the July.
While this is said to be one of the fairest weighted Julys for three-year-olds, some of the country’s top horses have been withdrawn from the race because of what are thought to be unfair weight penalties, such as leading filly Bela Bela.
Woodruff, a winning July trainer, five-time South African champion trainer and sonin-law of legendary trainer Terrance Millard, believes the way weights are allocated to horses should be re examined.
“Top weights are given to horses according to their merit rating. But unfortunately the merit rating is based on a short “snapshot” of the horse’s ability rather than calculating the horse’s overall performance over a year and comparing it to other horses racing over the same distance.”
Cape-based trainer Justin Snaith with five runners hoping to take top honours, said to ensure his runners were not penalised with extra weight, he had kept them “under wraps” for a large part of the season. June 25, 2017
Well-known racehorse owner and trainer Syd Laird with the famous Sea Cottage.