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

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - NEWS -

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.

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