It’s a Ten Gun Salute (AUS) for Durban July

Duncan Howells is KZN’s leading trainer and the only local trainer with runners in Saturday’s R4.25 million Vodacom Durban July (2200m) at Greyville.

Howells was left beaming after Ten Gun Salute (AUS) blew away the field in the Betting World 1900 after being in two minds whether to run the gelding right up to the day of the race.

“He pulled a back muscle in the Drill Hall so was out of work for a few days. After that Beth Shaw (equine physiotherapist) worked on him every day. After his work on the Friday he pulled up sound and as this was probably his only chance of making the July field I decided to have a go, but it was huge pressure.”

Ten Gun Salute (AUS), picture Nkosi Hlophe

The gamble paid off and Ten Gun Salute scythed through the field from near last to win going away in possibly the most impressive build-up race to the July. “Muzi (Yeni) said he thought he was out of his ground just before turning for home so went wide to get closer. Ten Gun then just took off with him.”

Ten Gun Salute was strongly fancied in last year’s July but Howells says he is in a far better space now. “He’s had his issues, but since his gelding and being taken down with a lead pony, he is a different horse. I cannot get him any better.”

But as leading trainer Justin Snaith says, “There are lots of big races in the winter season but really this is the race we all want to win and you have to sneak in off the best weight that you can.”

Brett Crawford, having the season of his life, is a man of few words in public but is confident of a big run from the favourite Edict Of Nantes. Winner of the Gr1 Investec Derby and the Grade 1 Daily News 2000, he points out that last year leading three-year-old Abashiri went into the July with 59kg and Edit Of Nantes, with relatively similar form, only has 54kg to shoulder.

On that reasoning, either Abashiri was way over-rated or Edict Of Nates is way under-rated. Most would go for the latter scenario and with Anton Marcus prepared to strip 2kg off his regular riding weight, Edict Of Nantes is a worthy favourite.

“My stable is in top form at the moment,” reasoned Crawford. “I’m very happy with my horses. Edict has come through his last run like he never had a run – he is very well.”

But wherever Edict Of Nates finishes, Al Sahem should be upsides as the two fought out a tight battle in the Daily News 2000 and champion trainer Sean Tarry’s runner is 0.5kg better off. In theory that should be enough to see the pair finish within a nostril of each other but while Edict Of Nates has drawn mid-field, Al Sahem as drawn 1 which over the years has proved to be a coffin draw.

“I would have preferred to be out of the scrum, but I expect him to have enough early pace to find second or third place in the running,” said Tarry.

In over a century only six horses have been successful from that gate, the possible reason being that one is seldom allowed to run your own race. You either have to go and hold position or drop out and be prepared to take you lumps at the back of the field.

Former champion jockey and July winning rider Garth Puller put it in a nutshell. “It’s mayhem from the start to the first turn at the Drill Hall with everyone looking for position.”

That said, Al Sahem has never finished further back than second in his career. He is also a big, strong and feisty colt and with a little luck in the running S’Manga Khumalo could bring home the bacon for the second time after winning for Tarry on Heavy Metal.

The four-year-old’s look well weighted this year and most have got in pretty much on their handicap mark so Snaith is confident of a big run from all of his charges. Although cautious when pressed on which is his best he eventually went for Black Arthur. “I have aimed him specifically at the July. He’s the horse to beat. He’s a huge runner off 54.5kg and horses run for Grant van Niekerk who can ride him confidently. Of the older horse’s he’s the right horse.”

Snaith has a strong second string to his bow in former Cape Derby winner It’s My Turn. “He’s nicely in (at the weights). I purposely missed the Gold Challenge because we didn’t want any more penalties and he needed the Betting Word 1900 badly but is doing good work at home. His biggest asset is Piere Strydom. He’s the right guy for a big race.”

Reserve runners making the field often run way above what is expected of them so South Africa’s most expensive yearling Horizon may be a factor but Ten Gun Salute is taken to rise to the occasion ahead of Black Arthur, Safe Harbour and Edict Of Nantes.

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