It’s D-Day! Durban July Day. The first Saturday in Jule – time for South Africa’s biggest race. It’s also the ever exciting clash of the younger versus the older. 2022 shapes as the most compelling renewal of this special battle.
Last years winner Kommetdieding is here to defend his crown. A year older, a year wiser? Certainly a few kilos heavier. A featherweight of 53kg carried him to victory twelve month ago. 7 Kilos more, about 15lb more to carry today doesn’t make it an easy task to go back to back.
He didn’t have an ideal prep leading into the July, but showed his class when winning the Cape Town Met, the premier Weight-For-Age contest, over 2000m earlier in January. He also impressed in the public gallops this week.
The 2021 runner-up Linebacker is here too. He ran a huge race in defeat. Although, he seemed to run out of energy in the final 100 metres. Nine furlongs just stretches him to the max.
He hasn’t won in over year, but ran well against tough competition. He comes into the race with a good weight and will be a huge runner. A possibly slow pace will be to his benefit.
Two-times July champion Do It Again is now a 7-year-old. Can he do it again? He was desperately unlucky last year. He looks in great shape and should run another strong race.
Many argue Pomp And Power is the most talented horse in South Africa at the moment. Watching him win the Cape Derby earlier this year certainly leaves a lasting impression.
He ran with plenty of credit in defeat in the Guineas and Daily News 2000 too. There is only one big problem: he’s got a mind of his own. He can pull his races away in the first couple of furlongs, as he’s done now a number of times lately.
There will be a lack of pace today and that is a real concern. In the gallops this week he looked as unruly as ever and it’s hard to see him lasting the trip. If the Snaith team somehow found a magical fix in the last few days to get him drop his head him he wins today. It’s hard to see, though.
Aragosta is one of the four chances for Mike De Kock. A talented 3-year-old. A Grade 1 winner over further than the July trip. He hang his chances away in the Daily News when last seen. But he impressed how he won the SA Derby and is likely to come on for the recent run.
His speed rating is one of the lowest coming into this race but he’s got the #1 draw and should be able to be in the right place at the right time when the field turns for home. He was my ante-post selection at 16/1 but having been unable to back him with any bookie who offered early odds I have to leave alone him today, now that he’s significantly shorter.
Jet Dark has top-class form over shorter. He ran on well in the Gold Challenge from off the pace after pulling quite hard early on. I struggle to see the appeal stepping up to 11 furlongs, though. He looks a miler, at best can push out to 10 furlongs, but the additional distance will be a struggle.
Al Muthana produced a career best in the Gold Challenge to beat strong opposition thanks to a nice turn of foot. If he can stay the additional furlong he is in with a huge chance. De Kock said they will “ride him for luck”. I’m not sure luck is enough to carry him to victory.
The filly Sparkling Water is well fancied after a narrow defeat in the Champions Challenge back in April. She travelled notably well that day and didn’t quite get the clearest of runs. But ultimately she is what she is and doesn’t look classy enough over this shorter trip I feel, especially with the expectation of a slow pace surely not playing to her strengths.
The winner of the Champions Challenge, Astrix, is an interesting longshot here again, but ultimately he is the price he is for a good reason.
The talk of town is Hoedspruit as potentially the best handicapped horse in the race. He lacks the class of the best and was found under WFA terms on the big occasions. But the July is a Handicap and that makes him a compelling runner.
He ran well in the Met against the best older horses giving tons of weight away on ratings. He didn’t stood a real chance but didn’t get the best of runs either that day and finished easily in 6th only 4.25 lengths beaten.
He meets the likes of Kommetdieding and Linebacker on much better terms today, receiving lumps of weight. He won a Grade 2 over 9 furlongs earlier this year and was seen after the Met only once, for his July prep. He caught the eye when dropping back to a mile and producing a lovely change of gear from the back of the field to finish much the strongest.
Justin Snaith clearly protected his handicap mark this season, always having the July in mind. He’s not a superstar, but clearly tremendously well-handicapped if one believes he can improve by a couple of pounds.
The dark horse of the race is Airways Law. He only got into the race yesterday. He was first reserve after Zapatillas became a non-runner. He won the designated Cup Trial in June, having improved quite dramatically starting out as a 68 rated handicapper only in October last year.
He won three on the bounce, having ran mostly on the Greyville polytrack, where he produced some stunning performances thanks to a potent turn of foot.
Switched to turf for the Dolphins Cup Trial he prevailed in fine style, bringing his form to the next level. Subsequently supplemented for the July, he missed the cut initially as the Handicapper didn’t award him a rating high enough to get into the field. Now he’s here, racing off 53kg. He’s effectively out of the weights given his official mark of 108, though.
Certainly no dark horse is favourite Safe Passage. His ultra-impressive Daily News 2000 victory propelled him to the top of the market. Far from fully tuned up, as De Kock alluded to before the race, he clearly surprised his trainer that day and one could not be impressed with his rapid acceleration in the closing stages of the Grade 1 contest over 2000 metres.
Many wonder what can he do if fully fit? He showed plenty of talent winning the Dingaans as a 2-year-old and the Gauteng Guineas earlier this year.
The son of Silvano keeps improving all the time and even though he has to give 1.5kg to the other 3-year-olds he looks very much capable of being even further ahead of them. He is the favourite for all the right reasons.
There are a few question marks over the trip, though. Whether he fully stays the additional furlong remains to be seen. His sire gives him a chance. His dam raises questions. The fact the pace won’t be blistering will give him every chance to do so, nonetheless.
From the older horses Linebacker makes the most appeal. He looks prepped all season long for the July. Safe Passage is the most likeliest winner in my book, nonetheless.
But from a betting perspective I bet the risk and possible reward that Hoedspruit is a bit better than his 116 rating. The son of 2014 July winner Legislate has to find a bit of improvement, there is no question about it. But the swing in the weights is very much in his favour if he can. He is a big, strong, galloping horse. He can travel and he can accelerate.
I’ halve my stake, though, because I’m sweet on Airways Law, too. I was hoping he would get in to the July, and thankfully he did. He has to improve even more so than Hoedspruit. But he’s quite unexposed over this trip and on turf. He’s a son of Legislate, too.
I simply love a strong traveller. And he is certainly that. But he also finds tons when asked to go and win a race. This lad looks potentially a bit special. Granted, he has a lot to find with the best. He may not be good enough. It’s risk and reward.
5pts win – Hoedspruit @ 14/1
5pts win – Airways Law @ 30/1