THE scratching of Vertical Takeoff from the 2011 Vodacom Durban July following injury has again stirred the debate around early declarations for the race. The nomination fees, too, remain a sore point for owners and trainers.
While the connections of Vertical Takeoff have taken their setback on the chin, trainer Sean Tarry said that he feels aggrieved about the conditions of South Africa’s greatest horse race, for which the final field was announced last Wednesday, almost two-and-a-half weeks before the big event.
Tarry commented: “The Durban July is the best and most talked-about event in the land, a traditional public spectacle in which the authorities should do their utmost to ensure that they line up best 20 horses who are in the best possible shape at the time of the race.
Mike de Kock and Sean Tarry. (summerhill.co.za).
“It beats me why we final declarations have to take place so long before the race. There are no reserve runners and apart from the fact that tote turnovers will be affected as a result of the reduced field, there are other runners with the credentials to have replaced Vertical Takeoff in the final field.
“Our three-year-old Gold Onyx is one of them. He is a Grade 1 winner with current form but was eliminated in favour of a horse like Safwan who, like Gold Onyx, didn’t race again after the log was published. Gold Onyx was in 18th spot on the July log published on 6 June, yet he finds himself without a ticket.
“The panel states that the log reflects what the field would look like if the race was to be run on that date. Looking at that log I would have thought Gold Onyx had done enough to earn his place in the race.
“The final field was announced just over a week after that log was published. This is not a case of sour grapes and I don’t want to take a knock at the connections of Safwan, but I believe that the panel needs to be more transparent in the way they make their selections so that prejudice can be eliminated and there is fairness to all involved. We need to know exactly where we stand so that runners can be aimed at specific qualifying races to ensure participation, if needed.
“The nomination fees also bear scrutiny. The owners of Vertical Takeoff had to pay over R50,000 to get the horse in and there will be no refund. Owners of runners whom didn’t make the cut had to fork out between R30,000 and R40,000 in entry fees. Vodacom is a huge and important sponsor. I am not sure why Gold Circle has to contribute to the stake of the race employing the entry fees.”
Trainer Mike de Kock added: “It’s a crazy system. To take so much money at the nomination stage for races like the Vodacom Durban July is a liberty and I also think the nomination stage should be a lot later. Our final declaration for the July is ridiculously early. A lot can go wrong with a horse in two weeks.
“The July as a famous social and sporting occasion invokes emotion from the general public and the horses enhance the event, which should be marketed as an event. The final field for the July should be announced on the Tuesday preceding the race, like the Melbourne Cup and the Dubai World Cup. Arguably more than 70% of people attending the July come racing at Greyville for the glamour of the event as a whole, they will never have a need to study form two weeks before the race.
“The only people who gain from ante-post betting weeks in advance of the race are the bookmakers, who as it is have a stranglehold on the industry with their Open Bet. The Tote has no gain.”
“Trainers should be able to supplement right up until the final declaration, albeit at a big fee of at least 10% and that fee should be added to the stake. The optimistic initial entries fall by the wayside, but they do so without owners having had to fork out a nomination fee.
Graeme Hawkins, Chief Operating Officer of Gold Circle, said earlier this year that he was willing to discuss different methods going forward. “There is no right way and no wrong way. But I don’t believe first nominations should be free. We have a budget to meet and a fee for a broad-based initial entry allows us to meet it.”
“I don’t agree with that, because there is a right way and that is the way proven for years in Melbourne and Dubai. In Dubai, at the World Cup meeting, there was a record crowd at Meydan and substantial turnovers were recorded in other parts of the world betting on the event. This is simply a case of Gold Circle needing the cash.”