Billy Bowlegs comes into the HWB Durban July off an unusually long 63 day layoff. (JC Photos).
The Alec Laird-trained three-year-old The United States colt Billy Bowlegs will have to defy 89 years of Durban July history to win the big R5 million Hollywoodbets-sponsored event on Saturday.
Not since Sun Tor came back from a 161 day (23 week) layoff to win the July in 1934 has a horse won the country’s premier horse race coming off as long a layoff as Billy Bowlegs’ 63 day (nine week) layoff.
Alec explained the reason for the layoff, “He came out of the SA Derby well and so we made a decision to have a crack at the Premier’s Champions Challenge because we thought we had a chance of winning it. It’s a R2 million race and with the Daily News we knew we were going to be taking on See It Again and if we ran a good race there you are going to get a penalty. The other thing is with the July in mind I wouldn’t have been able to keep him at a peak for the full seven months. He did pick up a penalty for running fourth in the Champions Challenge but not as big a penalty as he probably would have got in the Daily News. And on the other hand if he had run in the Daily News and had a poor run it would have created a case to leave him out of the July. He ran a very creditable fourth in the Champions Challenge after having to ease a number of times and not getting into a rhythm.”
Laird continued, “After the Champions Challenge he had an easy time for four weeks just to give him a chance to let down a little and give his legs a rest.”
The yard then brought him back into full training.
The program has worked as the the heart rate monitors show him to be in tip top shape.
Laird revealed, “The other reason I thought it was worth trying to do it this way with the nine week gap is he is not a heavy horse and doesn’t need a hard race to be ready. He’s very clear winded and is a naturally fit horse.”
He said about the draw of five, “Five is a good draw but there is a lot of luck in running in the July, there is always a hard luck story. We will just try and stay out of the hard luck and try and get lucky.”
Sean Veale has been up to Randjesfontein three times to ride Billy Bowlegs and in one of those gallops he jumped out of the pens.
Alec said, “Sean has got no experience on the horse. He only rode him a year ago as a two-year-old. I can’t tell a jockey how a horse comes out the gates. He has to experience it himself. So we decided to give him that experience so he knows what to expect and how much he needs to ask him out of the gates to hold his position.”
Alec added, “Billy Bowlegs normally jumps well, but he is quite keen in the first bit. In his last run in the Challenge he was right there, he could have just about led, but he has never led in the past so we didn’t want to do that then.”
Billy Bowlegs got into the July through a win in the Gr 3 Sea Cottage Stakes over 1800m, a third place finish in the Gr 1 WSB SA Classic over 1800m, a second in the Gr 1 WSB SA Derby over 2450m and a fourth in the Gr 1 Premier’s Champions Challenge over 2000m.
Alec called the like of Champions Challenge third-placed Rain In Holland “a serious Group 1 horse” and pointed to Billy Bowlegs now being considerably better off with her at the weights.
If the July was a weight for age race like the Champions Challenge, Rain In Holland would carry 57,5kg and Billy Bowlegs 58kg.
Therefore, as he is getting 3kg from her, he is effectively 3,5kg better off with her for a long-head beating in the Champions Challenge.
Yet, Rain In Holland is 16/1 and Billy Bowlegs 33/1.
Furthermore, Laird believes Billy Bowlegs would have won the Gr 1 WSB SA Derby with a better draw.
As a hold up horse it was decided he had to be settled from the off, so there was no other option but to drop him to the back.
The plan worked because he settled immediately under Gavin Lerena.
Laird said, “But the way the race panned out, he just had way too much to do from the back of the field. He made up so much ground and was coming through, but he’s not Sea Cottage!”
With a better draw Laird believes he would have settled in a more handy position and he strongly believes he would have won the race.
He added that if Son Of Raj is rated with a good chance, as his 14/1 odds suggest, then Billy Bowlegs must also.
He felt the public had forgotten about Billy Bowlegs simply because it was so long since he had run.
It is 27 years since Alec won the July with London News in 1996.
However, he does take notice of number omens and recalls that he was 36 at the time of his July win and is now 63.
There is also the 63 days of Billy Bowleg’s layoff.
Alec hails from the July’s greatest racing family and will be out to score a 17th win for this dynasty.
His legendary hall of fame father Syd holds the July record of training seven winners, his grandfather Alec won the July as a jockey, His great Uncle Syd Garrett won two July’s as a jockey and three as a trainer, his cousins Dennis Drier and Charles Laird have each won one July and Alec has won one himself.
Billy Bowlegs travels down to KZN on Friday.