Apprentice Rachel Venniker will make history in the 126th running of the R5 million Gr1 Hollywoodbets Durban July by becoming the first female rider in the history of the race. Joey Soma has taken a leap of faith in booking the young apprentice, champion elect this season, in a notoriously rough race. When the draws were done at Hollywoodbets headquarters in Umhlanga today, Soma drew gate 14 for Red Saxon in the 18-horse field. By late on Monday, after the 11am declarations, there were a number of trainers still hunting jockeys. Given the weight conditions, half of the 18-horse field were carded to carry less than 53.5kg and by the time the draws were made, Johan Janse van Vuuren was still to declare riders for his two runners, Puerto Manzano and Second Base.
JP van Der Merwe retains the ride on Gr1 Premier’s Champions Challenge winner Astrix who drew wide at 17 with Warren Kennedy, usually first call for Peter, picking up the ride on the Mike de Kock-trained Gr1 SA Derby winner Aragosta who subsequently finished a close-up third behind stable companion Safe Passage in the Gr1 Daily News 2000. He drew pole position at gate 1. S’Manga Khumalo, has opted to ride De Kock’s filly Sparkling Water in preference to dual Gr1 L’Ormarins Queens Plate and Gr1 Champions Cup winner Jet Dark. Justin Snaith has replaced him with top heavy-weight rider Bernard Fayd’Herbe who will jet in from Mauritius for the ride.
Sparkling Water finished a short-head back to surprise winner Astrix in the Gr1 Premier’s Champion Stakes but is now 0.5kg better off in the Hollywoodbets Durban July.
With four runners in the race, De Kock was quick to snap up light-weights Muzi Yeni, Kennedy and Khumalo while Callan Murray, now resident in Australia, made the call for Al Muthana, a horse that he has won on in the past. Murray will be comfortable with the 58kg allotted his mount although he has drawn wide at 16.
With the filly Marina not making the cut for Candice Bass-Robinson, Aldo Domeyer has picked up the ride on Do It Again for Justin Snaith. Twice winner of this race and a tad unlucky in fourth last year, the seven-year-old veteran of the turf will have many supporters this year after his emphatic win in his warm-up in the Gr2 World Sports Betting 1900. He drew barrier 2.
Piere Strydom makes a return to racing after a lengthy break from the saddle. He suffered a detached retina in a riding accident and it was touch-and-go whether he would ever ride again. He intimated that if he did not get a mount in this year’s Hollywoodbets Durban July that he would probably hang up his boots.
Justin Snaith heeded the call and Strydom will attempt to equal Anton Marcus’s record of five July victories when he partners former July winner Belgarion who pulled a plum gate at 11. Marcus is currently on the injury list and will miss riding in the race for the first time in many years.
Last year’s winner Kommetdieding and runner-up Linebacker will renew rivalry. Kommetdieding, drawn 18 last year, has a more favourable gate in 13 this year while Linebacker has drawn 4. Gavin Lerena will again be aboard Kommetdieding while Grant Van Niekerk will be hoping to go one better on Linebacker.
Mike Rattray’s biggest dream was to win this race and although coming close twice, he was never able to realise his dream as he passed away earlier this year. His colours will be carried by Waterberry Lane as Dean Kannemeyer promised. Kannemeyer has won this race three times and Waterberry Lane pulled a plum draw of 7.
The race will be run over 2200m on Saturday, July 2. Sporting venues are still restricted under Covid regulations to 50% of capacity. Stephen Marshall, Marketing Executive for Gold Circle said that this equates to 27 500 but pointed out that ticket sales have been brisk and way ahead of what was expected. He estimated that there were about 3000 tickets left available through Computicket.
Most of the runners will be put through their paces at the traditional July gallops at Hollywoodbets Greyville on Thursday morning, June 23. The first gallop will be off at 7am sharp. Runners still on the Highveld will gallop at Turffontein and shown on the big screen. Entrance to the course is free and there will be coffee and sticky buns available, also free of charge. If you fancy a more substantial breakfast, book a seat in the Durban View Restaurant. Breakfast at R120 pp. Reservations: 031-3141659
Image: Rachel Venniker / Candiese Lenferna