“THE horse and the punt … that’s the right order, writes ANDREW HARRISON ahead of the 2011 Vodacom Durban July.
The horse gives the game theatre, a hero, and the divine madness. Take him away and you are left with mere commerce. If you just want a bet, you can play the pokies. If you fancy yourself as an “investor”, better to stick to BHP Billiton.
Sure, BHP script will rise and fall, but it will never come down with a suspensory. If you think racing is “scientific”, see a doctor. Racing is as scientific as a riot.” Australian author Les Carlyon penned these words back in the last century, and that wasn’t too long ago, but few in the “game” will deny the sentiment. With the Vodacom Durban July on the horizon the casual punter and those that have a once-a-year dabble on the nags have their juices stirred.
But as Carlyon points out, it is the horse that is the show, the bet a mere by-product. Many will argue the opposite. Without the betting, horse racing would not exist as it does today but it’s difficult to make a case for a roulette ball having character and the only character on the card table is the dealer, who like a siren, beckons you onto a financial rock before turning her charms onto the next would be Odysseus. For every horse in the July field there is a story.
Some not the stuff of legends but as in all facets of horse racing there is always a tale to tell. Big City Life won the Vodacom Durban July two years ago. For part owner Raymond Deacon, whose father Maynard was a staunch supporter and whose colours Big City Life carried to victory, it was a dream.
He admitted to having panel beaten the back of the couch for much of his youth as he urged his fancies over the line in front of the television. But it has been hard going for Big City Life. He has been injury plagued and the Gold Challenge has been his sole victory since.
So to Bravura! Big and gangling and still to grow into his large ears, he was invincible up until the Investec Cape Derby. But a subsequent injury to a hind leg wrecked his Champions Season campaign and he was not seen out again until the Cape summer. That too proved disappointing and many were of the opinion that the injury had done him permanent damage. It now doesn’t appear so as he spread-eagled a useful field in his KZN debut and was narrowly beaten in Monday’s Rising Sun Gold Challenge. In spite of bucket-loads of money spent on foreign stock owner Markus Jooste may well taste his biggest success with a locally-bred.
J & B Met winner Past Master, too, has had his trials and tribulations. A wrangle over ownership eventually saw him leave the stable of Dean Kannemeyer and with new trainer Darryl Hodgson at the helm he too has overcome injury and blossomed into probably the country’s best “miler”.
And what of the ruling ante-post favourite for the July? Super filly Igugu has swept all before her in the fillies ranks and simply toyed with the opposition in the recent Woolavington 2000. She takes on males for the first time come Saturday, July 2, and many have already penciled in her name in the winner’s space.
As far as the three-year-old males go, no one is certain whether they are generally a good crop, or all average with not single individual able to stamp his authority. They finished in a heap in the Daily News 2 000 but with very few of them having taken on older horses in the lead-up to the July, the jury is still out.
For those intimately involved in the sport, whether owner, trainer, jockey, stable hand or punter, it is the horse that is the eternal attraction. The “pokies” are as productive and as galling as the Nike-shod bum that has been accosting me at the same intersection for the past six years but come Wednesday, the horses take centre stage.