JOCKEY Grant van Niekerk, who turns 25 on Thursday, is hoping to gain compensation for being “robbed” on 55-1 shot Smanjemanje in the Vodacom July four years ago.
He recalled: “It was my first ride in the race and I can remember every single bit of it. I went into it with no pressure. I knew the horse had ability but maybe not up to that class.
“However he surprised me. I got bumped twice (by Chesalon) in the straight and I still believe today that this cost me the race. I was pushed from the outside to the middle and I was only beaten a short head.”
He believes that his 2016 July mount Marinaresco (his fourth ride in the race) has a big chance and that their 19 draw holds no fears for either him or the horse. He initially considered it to be the worst draw of the lot – and indeed so did punters and bookmakers, and the three-year-old’s price went out from 6-1 to 9-1.
But Van Niekerk said: “The draw doesn’t really bother me that much because I now think the best going is probably three or four horses off the rails as there are patches on the track.
“In any case I was always going to give him a chance. It will be his first time racing at Greyville and I don’t want to make it hard for him. But I think he will suit the course and I know he will make up the ground. He is a very good horse, probably up there with the best I’ve ridden.”
Mike Bass’s final July runner hasn’t always been easy to handle. “He used to be very naughty in a race, fighting other horses, and if he worked alongside something he would have his ears flat back as he tried to have a go at the horse and it’s rider.”
Gelding and blinkers have channelled this in the required direction – “He is now all heart in a race and he fights to the line. I just have to find luck in running.”