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Vodacom Durban July preview

Casting a wider net for the blog this weekend, covering South Africa's finest horse race, the Vodacom Durban July at Greyville. For the shrewdest advice, I've drafted in a former colleague and local racing expert, Alan Moscrop, @alanmoscrop, to preview the great race. His shrewd analysis appears courtesy of Goodforthegame.za and the original article can be found here.

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2015 Vodacom Durban July
1620 local, 1520 BST
Grade 1 2200m, Greyville
R 3.5m (£180k)


Odds comparison
Formguide

The 2015 Vodacom Durban July takes place at Greyville this Saturday where a field of 18 of the very best thoroughbreds in the country will battle it out over 2200m for the jewel of the South African racing season.

This year’s contest looks an ultra-competitive affair – certainly that’s my view, despite the current betting just four runners at less than 12/1 – as cases can made for a number of runners available at very attractive odds, and there’s plenty of value for punters to snap up if you’re looking to oppose the market-leaders. Current leading trainer Sean Tarry has no less than five entries in this year’s final field, and having won the July in two of the last three seasons, it’s little surprise to see one of his stable runners, Legal Eagle, topping the boards at around 5/2. Justin Snaith trained last year’s controversial winner Legislate and he’s represented by this season’s J&B Met and Queens Plate victor Futura, who recently moved yards from the Brett Crawford stable. And talking of top trainers, the name Mike de Kock needs no introduction when it comes to this race, and he’ll be looking for a fifth July title and first since 2011 when he saddles his two smart three-year old fillies Majmu and Pine Princess.

The full field for this Grade One contest with trainers, jockey’s and runner info is as follows:

(*Odds average prices @ 29th June and are subject to change)



The Fancied Four...

Even before the final field was declared last week there were four runners who looked set to be the ones the bookies feared most and the quartet of Legal Eagle, Futura, Majmu and Wyile Hall are the ones quoted in single figures with most firms. LEGAL EAGLE has been all the ante-post betting rage following an emphatic SA Derby victory where he left the cream of the crop of three year olds looking almost flat-footed. He accounted for his smart stablemate French Navy that day, and in his final prep run in the Jubilee a few weeks ago, Legal Eagle demonstrated his well-being with another flawless display. Owners Markus and Ingrid Jooste have been one of the most successful owners in SA racing for a good few years, however the July has proved elusive to the couple and they’ll be hoping this year could be theirs to land the big one. Jockey Anton Marcus won his first July 22 years ago and victory aboard this weekend’s favourite would be his fifth and take him to the position of the most ever wins in the race.

FUTURA had an outstanding summer when landing the Queens Plate and J&B Met double, before coming back up to KZN to win on his provincial re-appearance. However the run in the Gold Challenge last time out wasn’t his best on display, although I might be tempted to say he wasn’t perhaps given as good a winning chance as he should have (purely my opinion and you’re welcome to agree or disagree). Nonetheless, this has always been his target after coming from the clouds to run a cracking close-up third in last year’s race that was marred by a shambolic early pace. He clearly loves the track and that ability to accelerate off both a slow and a more true-run race should serve his chances very well and gives his new stable a great chance of securing back-to-back July crowns. One factor against him could be the weight – at 60kg he carries a mass that would set a record in recent times and would also need to buck the trend of top-weights tending to struggle in South Africa’s biggest handicap race.

Ever since making her juvenile debut, MAJMU has been a horse that many have had plenty to say about, with early expectations that she was another ‘Igugu’ or even an ‘Ipi Tombe’ in the making (both brilliant three-year old fillies who landed Mike de Kock the July and various other successes). A somewhat controversial choice as recipient of the champion two-year old filly title at the end-of-season awards (some will argue other rivals had performed with more distinction at that point), she’s since put the argument firmly to bed to show she really is the best in her class, gender and right up there amongst the top horses in the country after a string of impressive outings as a three-year old. She’s had an interrupted prep going into the July, with just two runs under her belt this year – a facile win against a hot fillies field over Turffontein mile, followed by a runner-up finish behind Wylie Hall in The Presidents Challenge. It’s her first appearance in KZN but she showed she can travel well when landing the Cape Fillies Guineas in facile fashion in her only run to date outside Gauteng. At 55kg Majmu is weighted to the max for a 3yo filly, giving a kg to Derby winner Legal Eagle, which is a tough ask, but her class could very well pull her through.Like fellow experience jock Anton Marcus, Delpech is currently on four July winners and has a massive chance of a fifth (and the more observant would have noticed his mount’s saddlecloth – yep, number five).

12 months on from his demotion to second place after the objection in last year’s Durban July, WYLIE HALL is back to try and do it all again and comes into the race with, on paper, a far bigger chance than he had when being relatively friendless in the 2014 edition. It was a cruel decision on the day but the connections took it in admirable fashion, and if lady-luck is to fortune one runner on Saturday then there would be none more deserving. He’s been lightly raced by the Marwing yard since losing on the objection but hasn’t put a foot wrong since returning from a layoff, and his win over Majmu at slightly worse weights than this weekend was an indication of his well-being. It must be noted however that as a five-year old Wylie Hall does have history against his chances of success – only two other champions of the age have taken the July in the last 20 years. However he looks to have the best chance of the older horses (and they’re a few) in this year’s contest.

Ready To Pounce?

If any of the aforementioned quartet were to not be 100% on their game then there’s no shortage of challengers just behind them in the betting who will be looking to pounce. The classy FRENCH NAVY was a horse that regular Goodforthegame readers will have known plenty about early in his career – he was one I’d earmarked before making a big name for himself as one to follow after I’d spent some time watching replays of his early outings. He didn’t disappoint and a Grade One SA Classic success over favourite Ertijaal was just reward for a good few hours of watching replays! I was a touch disappointed by the manner of his defeat in the Derby to stablemate Legal Eagle, but the Daily News 2000 victory last time out showed he’s comfortable over the tight Greyville track. His off-the-pace style will however need him and regular pilot Raymond Danielson wanting them to go a true pace from the off, as if they go slow he could be a casualty of simply being out of his ground when they swing for home.

POWER KING has been a horse I’ve been following on and off for his career, sometimes making me money, sometimes proving costly, as he frustratingly has often found one too good on the day. A run through his form shows a string of second placed efforts, but while that might suggest he does battle to get his head in front when it matters, it also shows a degree of consistency that may be rewarded on Saturday. Trainer Dean Kannemeyer has long raided KZN for the features, but having come up much earlier this season with his string and doing a huge amount of prep work with his team, the results have been a superb return for the yard. The ultimate reward would be success in a race that Kannemeyer won with the great Dynasty and Eyeofthetiger in the 2000s. Power King’s prep run was a flying second in the Betting World 1900 when he came from stone-last to just fail to tag Dynastic Power on the line. He was my tip that day and I’ve since flagged him as some value at 17/1 on our forum – although that has also since been snapped up. He wants a strong pace, like a few others, and I’d love to see Natal-boy and veteran jock Stuart Randolph land the July after many years of trying without success to date.

The second of the trio of three year old fillies in the race is PINE PRINCESS, who looks a real lurker for the Mike de Kock yard after finding some great form in the last two months. She had to play second fiddle to the likes of Majmu and Sirens Call in the early season three year old feature races for the fairer sex, but when sent over the extended trip of The Oaks she showed a liking for the extra trip when putting in a gutsy performance to deny Sirens Call the triple tiara. Her last outing was in the Woolavington over the Greyville 2000m when she raced out front only to be caught on the line by Smart Call in a slow-run race. In those last two Grade One runs she’s shown versatility and gives de Kock an added weapon to his armoury – with a plum draw of stall five and a handy galloping mass of just 52.5kg further boosting her claims.

One runner in the field who tends to save his best for the big occasion is the Geoff Woodruff trained TELLINA, and he’s sure to have his supporters at a price that will be north of 20/1 on the day. While it has been a dozen outings since his last race victory which came in Jan 2014, he has placed in the Met, last year’s July and various other Grade 1 contests since then, and Geoff Woodruff will have him fit and well for another stab at the July. He’s slid down the merit ratings a touch and carries just 54kg, a light mass compared to many recent runs and the 58kg he lumped to 4th this time last year.

If there is an award for the best-looking horse in the field then THE CONGLOMORATE would be hard to beat on looks. The smashing-looking son of Australian-based sire Lonhro emerged from the shadows of stablemate ACT OF WAR to announce himself as a potential star for the Joey Ramsden yard with victory in the Politician Stakes on Queens Plate day. He the cape up to Durban and took the KZN Guineas with an eye-catching effort after being perfectly placed by Anton Marcus entering the Greyville run-in. He gets the services of one of the top young jockeys in the world right now in Chad Schofield, who is making a big name for himself in Australia (Chad is the son of the likeable Glyn Schofield, a well known former local Natal jockey). The Conglomorate probably does need to find a bit more on his run behind French Navy in the Daily News, and he jumps from the widest draw of all – although it’s worth noting Pomodoro managed to win from that same gate 20 back in 2012, so it’s not an impossible task but certainly an added challenge.

Experience Counts?

Veteran Cape trainer Stan Elley has recently announced he’ll be calling it a day at the end of this season, and the part-time Tellytrack presenter will be a popular winner I'm sure if one of his two runners can cause the upset, of which PUNTAS ARENAS looks his best hope. The 6 year old is back for a third crack at the July and comes into the race in probably his best form to date, following up a strong-finishing third in the Betting World 1900 with another late burst to take the Cup Trial four weeks ago. It was his first race win in over two years but he looks to still have his zest for racing. He’s rarely run a bad race at Greyville and all his runs here have been mostly Grade 1 or 2 contests, and while age and a poor draw are negative factors, he’ll give as honest account as you’ll get of the 18 runners.

I’ve often wondered if this next horse would show his true potential on the big stage and on Saturday he gets his chance to do just that. ICE MACHINE has been plagued by soundness issues that has limited him to just two runs in the last 12 months. However both were excellent efforts, and the manner in which trainer Charles Laird, who acquired the son of Silvano around this time last year, has talked up this horse’s potential should not go unheard. Although the recent July gallops aren’t much to go on based on past gallops versus results statistics, it is worth noting that the six year old was noted as looking a picture in respected opinions .His course form is solid and the concern might be if he’ll stay in a strongly run race, but if they go on the slow side, he’s for me a very big outsider to throw into the equation.

Dean Kannemeyer’s second runner is the renowned stayer HOT TICKET, who is perhaps a somewhat surprise entrant given his success in races over longer distances – he was victorious on July Day 12 months ago but in the Gold Vase over the marathon 3000m trip. He’ll stay all day and his sire Silvano has produced some superb July runners, and winners, in recent years. I’m just not quite sure he’s the stable first-choice here, despite Karl Neisius getting the ride. He’d be a very big shock winner for me and would no doubt be a welcome result for bookies if he caused the upset.

Yet another runner from the Tarry yard is the six year old HALVE THE DEFICIT, who merits respects with top jockey Pierre Strydom on board. Striker partnered the gelding to seventh in last year’s race when racing handy but failing to quicken when it mattered most. A number of solid Grade 1 and 2 performances have followed since, and he was a running on sixth, just over 2 lengths back, behind Legislate in the Gold Challenge last time out. You get the sense that despite being one of the oldest in the field, we may not have yet seen the very best of Halve The Deficit, and any runner with Striker on board merits the utmost respect.

The last of the elder statesman is the more senior of them all, the seven year old tough campaigner GOLD ONYX, who also hails from the Sean Tarry yard. He’s really been enjoying his racing despite his advanced years, and quite recently gave me a memorable J&B Met when he was my each-way and swinger bet with Futura in our Goodforthegame Met preview. He’s not won since 2013 and could possibly still need this outing after only recently making his return since that Met run, but he’s as game as they come and will give it a crack in his second July since making his debut in the race back in 2012. Sadly this race might have come 12 months too late and it would be a huge shock to see him troubling the judge.

Upset Material?

As stated at the beginning of this preview there’s a wide open look about this race, and if there was a shock result then a few of the remaining runners could be the candidates to do just that. Mike Bass is the most experienced trainer currently still holding a licence and knows how to train a July winner, his last success being the dead-heated victory by Pocket Power in 2008. His representative this year is the capable HELDERBERG BLUE, who did catch the eye when third in the Met in January to show he’s got the talent to mix it in Grade One company. He was an expensive R2.8 million purchase as a yearling but hasn’t quite hit top form in recent runs, and would need to produce a massive career-best performance to feature, although if he goes out setting the pace he might have the legs to trouble the more fancied runners in the betting, especially if it’s not a fast run race like the Met was back in January.

DEPUTY JUD was runner up to Legal Eagle in the Derby, and at a price of around 45/1 he will look a big piece of value to many given Legal Eagle’s price at the top of the betting. He was given a three length beating that day is sound fashion but looks to have more improvement to come and does get a slight one kg turn at the weights on the favourite. His run in the Daily News is hard to read too much into as he took a hefty bump at the 200m mark and wasn’t persevered with. He does need to reproduce that Derby run to be in the mix but with a race at the track under his belt this could be chance for him to step up and build on a very promising career to date.

Stan Elley’s second representative DYNASTIC POWER had earmarked himself as a potential future big race winner when landing the Cape Winter Derby, accounting for a few good sorts that day around 13 months ago including Power King. He then lost his form a touch, not badly, and was being tried over longer before bouncing back in style with a hard-fought win in the Betting World 1900m. He was taken wide that day and steered clear of any traffic to hold off the powerful finish of Power King, but was then found to be not striding out in a lacklustre effort behind stablemate Puntas Arenas in the Cup Trial. This is his toughest challenge to date by a huge margin and it would be a surprise if he were to get the better of many of those more fancied in the betting.

The last of the carded runners to cover off is the third of the three fillies in the race, TAMAANEE from the Tarry yard. She’d been bumping the very best fillies from early in her career and was a 3.5 length third behind Majmu in the Empress Club, but gets a handy 3kg swing at the weights on that meeting. She then came out to trounce older male rivals in fast time Derby day at Turffontein in one of the support feature races, going quicker than the Wylie Hall did in the Champions Cup carrying a not too dissimilar weight. She was well fancied in the Woolavington but flopped and was found to have spread a shoe which no doubt is a valid excuse for the poor showing, and has top jockey S’manga Khumalo on board, who guided home Heavy Metal for the same stable two years ago. It would be no surprise to see this filly be handy as they turn for home and then make a dash for the line under her flyweight 52kg mass, at the very least ensuring a true run pace for her stablemates Legal Eagle and French Navy.

Reserve Runners:

The two who’ll be hoping to get a chance to make the field are DYNAMIC and MAC DE LAGO, both talented horses in their own right. Dynamic was a July target with the Snaith yard well over two years ago when shining as a three year old, but injuries and soundness issues kept him off the track for some time. Since making his comeback last year he’s never looked out of depth in his races and placed efforts in the Betting World 1900 and Cup Trial has shown he’s fit and well, although he does perhaps look a touch short of the class needed to win this race and is also drawn very wide. Mac de Lago is owned by the same connections of Dynamic and has shown plenty promise to date, with his last effort an eye-catching fifth when running on from well back after being drawn out in the sticks in the Daily News 2000. On breeding this trip will be no problem and wouldn’t be one to totally discard if he were to make the line-up.

SUMMARY & SELECTIONS:

It’s fair to say that reading through my own comments again I’m probably batting to narrow down my selections more so than any recent July i can recall, but one must make that decision and I’ve narrowed down the race to be fought out between the following:

Legal Eagle, Majmu, French Navy, Power King, Futura and Tamaanee

Now that’s six runners and clearly a third of the field! But it really does feel like a wide open race, and some of the betting moves this week have reflected that. So where’s my money going? I’m backing my gut feeling here from that observation made nearly six months ago (my exact words on the forum at time were “I think French Navy has the making of a serious racehorse...”). He’s proven he’s a talented sort and hopefully he can go one better and land the July for Tarry/van Niekerk combination for the third time in the last four years.

My supporting bets will be a saver each-way bet on Power King at a decent mid-range price, and then for a final interest I’ll throw a smaller stake on a big upset via Tamaanee at the massive odds of 50/1.

MAIN BET: French Navy each-way @ 8.33/1 (available @ Hollywoodbets – Tues 30th 11am).

MEDIUM BET: Power King each-way @ 18/1 (available @ Sportingbet – Tues 30th 11am).

SMALL BET: Tamaanee each-way @ 50/1 (available @ Betxchange – Tues 30th 11am).


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