Durban July – full-field preview plus betting odds

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It’s that time of the year again for South Africa’s premier horserace – the Durban July. Steeped in history, this event has been the pinnacle of equine achievement in South Africa since 1897. The original distance of a mile was upped in 1970 to its current 2200 metre trip. The race is held annually on the first Saturday of July at Greyville racecourse (now Hollywoodbets Greyville).

Being a top-flight handicap, the race has attracted the creme-de-la-creme of thoroughbreds in the country. The best horse doesn’t always triumph in a handicap, so which are the best-weighted horses? 

Let’s take a look at the field in betting order and try to separate the likely contenders from the dark horse’s and the almost no-hopers

5-2 Got The Greenlight – The horse that’s in the best form, Got The Greenlight’s destiny as the 2021 Durban seemed to be written in the stars. Peaking at the right time and triumphing in an appeal to lower his rating by 2 points after his facile last win (due to a technicality), it seemed like nothing would stop the charge of this 4-year-old Gimmethegreenlight (AUS) colt trained by veteran horseman Joe Soma. That is…until he drew barrier gate 14 for the race. At the tight Greyville track this abysmal draw is a game-changer. But, with Muzi Yeni, a jockey as in form as his mount, this stumbling block may not be enough to stop what remains the leading light for victory.

7-2 Linebacker – Maestro Vaughn Marshall seems to have gotten to the bottom of his charge as Linebacker promptly silenced critics by reeling off three wins on the trot – all against superb opposition. Whether this momentum can be maintained, though, is the million-dollar question. And, how much better than its rating of 124 can Linebacker be? 7-2 Linebacker – This 3-year-old Captain of All gelding seemed to be the perennial bridesmaid at top-flight level after four consecutive seconds. Pundits seem to think he’s the horse to be with, though, with a flood of support coming after he drew barrier 7.

11-2 Rainbow Bridge – The epitome of consistency. A cynic might say that this 6-year-old Ideal World gelding is more likely to trip over his beard than come up trumps. But, the true fans of racing know a class act when they see it – and Rainbow Bridge has shown no signs of being long in the tooth. Eric Sands has a knack for getting this old chap to peak at the right time, so he can never be written off from a one draw. However, with his illustrious achievements comes a monumental rating of 134, which sees Rainbow Bridge give weight to the entire field. 

15-2 Do it Again – After putting up a superb gallop the other day, many are saying that this 6-year-old Twice Over (GB) gelding would, in fact, do it again and win his third Durban July. Against him is a draw of 16 and some less than stellar recent performances. In his favour are top pilot Richard Fourie, savvy conditioner Justin Snaith and a supremely eyebrow-raising recent workout.

9-1 Rascallion – A choice of many an amateur handicapper – Rascallion comes into the race with a low weight of 53 and a long list of hard-luck stories. This two time winner has cost many punters over the last year – reeling off a string of places in events where he looked the proverbial good thing. His previous run, though, stands out. That day Rascallion ran above expectations for a change and gave his illustrious stable companion Linebacker a few anxious moments before being pipped into second. Rascallion fits the bill as a horse that will win a big one when he has his day in the sun.

12-1 Belgarion – At his best, this 5-year-old Dynasty gelding can win any top horse racing event. Last year this charge of Justin Snaith reeled off an impressive winning streak of six races, culminating in the Green Point Stakes. After close up runs in the Queen’s Plate and Met, Belgarion was given a much-deserved rest. A disappointing comeback run and barrier draw of 11 has left many to dismiss the chances of this champion. Perhaps that’s an error…

14-1 Kommetdieding – Every race has a potential ‘fairy tale ending’, and this 3-year-old Crawford/Rix trained Elusive Fort colt winning would be just that. A shrewd buy, Kommetdieding won its first four races from 1200-1800 metres without raising a sweat. Since relocating to Durban for the season, though, he seems to have lost that brilliance. Even though his two runs in the region are nothing to be sniffed at – both decent thirds -he doesn’t seem to be the same horse. However, on his earlier ‘freakish’ wins, he may still develop into a true champion and cannot be dismissed, even from an 18 draw.

20-1 She’s a Keeper – Winner of five of her six starts, this four-year-old Gimmethegreenlight (AUS) filly has very much been a talking horse of the race. But, even with a paltry 52 kilos on her back, she is still immensely under sufferance in this event. That, coupled with a ten draw, makes her current odds of 20-1 seem very restrictive.

25-1 Sovereign Spirit – The dark horse of the race, this 5-year-old Dynasty gelding seemed a cut below the best for a long time. That is, until his dazzling third in the Met where he punched way above his weight. Can a horse be judged on one run though? In the entirety of form, an unlikely winner, but on a repeat of his best performance, worthy of respect. 

40-1 Crown Towers – Marginally under sufferance, Crown Towers would make history if it were to win – simply for the fact that the connections withdrew the horse, only to re-nominate him after a gutsy Grade 3 win. In all likelihood, though, the best to hope for this gutsy 5-year-old front running gelding is that he goes to the front and hangs on for a minor cheque.

35-1 Nexus – At every turn this 5-year-old Dynasty gelding has appeared as very good, but not brilliant. Indeed, nothing in the formbook would suggest that Nexus would rise above its current rating, defy the odds and win. Stranger things have happened, but tough to put money on at less than 100-1 – certainly not from a 12 draw.

50-1 Cirillo – Not under sufferance and with a few decent weight turnarounds, this 5-year-old Pomodora entire represents some great value. Trained by champion trainer Sean Tarry, jumping from a nine draw with the services of champion jockey Lyle Hewitson, Cirillo is the very definition of a dark horse that’s worth pencilling in for bets. Sure, there are some less than stellar performances peppered between the top-notch runs, but one just needs to look at the run behind the current favourite where Cirillo was only beaten less than two lengths. On July day, Cirillo finds himself two kilos better off and with a draw advantage. 

66/1 Shah Akbar – Another talking horse, well, at least six months ago. After that, Shah Akbar never really lived up to the hype. A decent last run, though, when less than three lengths behind Linebacker leaves this Sean Tarry trained 3-year-old Quearari colt held on form, but not without a chance. While slightly under sufferance at the weights, Shah Akbar would well run above rating.

66/1 Running Brave – Her name says it all – this 5-year-old Brave Tin Soldier (US) mare is as plucky and spirited as they come. Capable of surprising on her best day, Running Brave would be a dream come true for newcomer to the training ranks Fanie Bronkhorst. Still, it seems a bridge too far for a horse that has finished far back in its last two starts.

75-1 Johnny Hero – At a glance, drawn two and in superb form, inexperienced punters might gasp in glee at the long odds on this 4-year-old Gimmethegreenlight (AUS) gelding. But, alas, Johnny Hero is far out at the weights in this event. 

75-1 Expressfromtheus – Yet to do the 2200 metre trip, this 4-year-old What a Winter gelding disappointed last time. While an improbable winner, Expressfromtheus does have three positives in its favour:

It may yet improve over the trip.

It is not under sufferance at the weights.

It jumps from barrier four.

75-1 Matterhorn – A bargain buy, this 4-year-old Marchfield (CAN) gelding is another horse who, at a glance for newcomers to gambling, looks pretty long odds. However, while our hearts are with veteran trainer Alyson Wright to pull off a miracle, Matterhorn is immensely out at the weights running off a merit rating of just 101.

75-1 Tristful – Tony’ Rivallands’ charge has been consistently just below the top drawer, and it’s tough to see how from a 17 draw, this 5-year-old Trippi gelding would suddenly run above its rating and defy the weights.

Emergency Acceptors

In the case of a scratching before final declarations on the morning of the race, the following horse’s would find themselves in the field:

Silver Host – A proven stayer, albeit at a lower level, Silver Host would have the stamina and heart, but probably not the ability to pull off the big one.

Shango – Sean Tarry’s 4-year-old Captain of All gelding looked like a very bright prospect early on but never really fulfilled its potential. It seems unlikely that Shango would suddenly run significantly above rating.

The Verdict

Well, it’s horse racing – if you have a ticket, you can win it. So, technically any of these horse’s would pull it off. But, considering the weight structure, draw, and current form, our picks are:

1st Got The Greenlight

2nd Rascallion

3rd Cirillo

4th Linebacker

But, the July is notorious for springing some big surprises every few years. So, study the form, come to your own conclusions and enjoy South Africa’s greatest racing spectacle.