THE running of this year’s Vodacom Durban July will mark the 40th anniversary of one of Africa’s Greatest Horseracing Event most controversial runnings.
The first horse past the post was the 7-2 second favourite Jamaican Music, one of the most popular greys to ever race here, but he was rider less having lost his jockey Tom Rattley about 350m into the race.
“It’s Sea Patrol and Riboville, Sea Patrol and Riboville,” repeated commentator Ernie Duffield after the field had turned for home.
He could hardly hide the disappointment in his voice as he waited expectantly but ultimately forlornly for the big guns to arrive on the scene.
Riboville, a 20-1 shot trained by George Azzie and ridden by Martin Schoeman, eventually reeled in the 33-1 chance Sea Patrol and beat him full of running by 4,5 lengths. There was a further 0,75 lengths back to the defending champion Yataghan, who pipped the 3-1 favourite Elevation for third.
It was a great day for Dennis and Peggy Mosenthal, owners of both Riboville and Elevation. They had finally won the race 22 years after the judge had taken ten minutes to decide through photo-finish evidence that Mowgli had beaten their fancied July runner Radlington.
However, the betting public didn’t take kindly to the result and it wasn’t long before conspiracy theories began, one of them claiming that Rattley had deliberately jumped off.
Fueled by years of innuendo, the theory has snowballed. However Garth Puller, who was riding Bon Vista, has said since then that he would stake his life and reputation that it was a genuine fall.
“Jamaican Music clipped the heels of a horse in front of him and pecked. This is like a catapult to the rider as the bit pulls the rein like an elastic. I was directly behind Jamaican Music and Tom went over the side of his neck. Normally you would just fall off and roll away but he was on the July favourite and tried to cling on. From my angle he looked to be clinging on to the rein. However it would be like hanging onto the side of a bus and he had no chance of getting back up. Luckily Jamaican Music had not reached the rail yet and Tom fell to the left so the horses behind were able to avoid him.”
Michael Roberts was aboard Kings Palace, and was alongside when Rattley fell. He also regards the conspiracy theory as nonsense.
Roberts recalls the horse pecking and then remembers Rattley clinging onto the stirrup strap and making a desperate attempt to climb back into the saddle. “It would have been a miracle had he managed to get back up. But I can vouch for it. I can remember it like it was yesterday”.
Puller added “The best stuntman in the world would not throw himself in front of a field of thoroughbred hooves at full pace. It would be tantamount to suicide and the conspiracy theory is the most far-fetched story on earth”.
For Jamaican Music’s trainer Ralph Rixon, who still lives in the Cape, it was the most disappointing day of his career.
“Later we watched the African Mirror film of the race at the Bioscope,” recalled Rixon many years later. “It was quite clear that Jamaican Music stumbled. It happened so quickly. When the horse was coming back up the jockey was still going down and he knocked him off. He was then hanging onto the side of the horse trying to get back on.”
Over the years the conspiracy theorists latched on to another supposed abnormality to add fuel to their claims that the race was “fixed.”
Why had trainer George Azzie’s stable jockey Martie Schoeman ridden Riboville, while Roy Curling had ridden the favourite Elevation?
However, Curling’s son, Ray, quickly put that rumour to bed, while revealing at the same time that the result had come as no great surprise to the Azzie yard.
He explained recently that Schoeman had been fired by Azzie earlier in the season after a disagreement. However, they patched things up shortly before the July. In the meantime Curling had ridden Elevation to win the Gr 2 Johannesburg Champion Stakes and finish second in the Gr 1 Clairwood Champion Stakes. Azzie felt it would be unfair to take Curling off and therefore only gave Schoeman the spare ride on Riboville.
Ray Curling continued, “In the build-up Elevation went over the top in his training while Riboville began working like a bomb and improved by lengths.”
For Rixon the nightmare was erased when Jamaican Music won the 1976 July.
“I was very confident that year,” said Rixon. “Jamaican Music always came from near the back and would then fly up, but he always got there in time. With Bert Abercrombie up, who also liked to ride that way, I knew he would win. The owner decided to retire him to stud immediately, but I think he still had a year’s racing him in and was a certainty for the Gold Cup as he stayed all day.”
The 1976 July was an immensely popular result.
The grey had won many new fans in the 1974 July due to his quite astonishing intelligence.
It had not escaped the notice of many, including the press that after losing Rattley, Jamaican Music had run as if being guided by a jockey.
“He worked his way through the field very cleverly without causing any interference,” confirmed Rixon. “Whenever a gap appeared he surged through and would then sit and wait. Even when they came into the straight he sat behind the leader for a while before running away in the last furlong. He was a horse who knew what to do from the first day he raced. He had a wonderful temperament and never put a foot wrong. He was just a champion.”
Today Rattley still rides work in his new home in England.
His brother-in-law Gys Van Schalkwyk, a KZN-based racing owner, said, “The incident and the accusations affected Tom’s confidence and his career. It hurt him and he would refuse to discuss the race.” – Gold Circle.