Nick Jonsson holding the Daily News 2000 trophy. He will be hoping to be holding the Durban July trophy for a third time tomorrow (Picture: Gold Circle).
Nick Jonsson became only the second owner in known Durban July history to land the exacta in the big race when Do It Again was followed home by Made To Conquer in the 2018 renewal and he has a chance of a repeat this year and could actually even go one better.
Ironically the first to achieve an owner’s exacta was Nick’s good polo-playing friend Luke Bailes, who had a share in both Ilustrador and Olympic Duel in the 1990 July.
Jonsson’s Michael Roberts-trained favourite See It Again is the selection of most pundits and his Justin Snaith-trained charge Without Question is also a popular choice.
However, Nick could possibly land the trifecta, because he also has the legendary Snaith-trained Do It Again in the race.
He said, “Getting the trifecta would be incredible. It is the kind of thing that would be impossible to achieve more than once and it would put me ahead of Luke, which would be pleasing!”
However, he admitted, “You try not to think about things like that even when people talk about them because the July is the most difficult race to win. It is such a lottery in so many ways.”
The Jonsson family in fact have four chances of landing the race because Nick’s wife Celeste has a share in the Snaith-trained Pacaya, who is owned by The Duke Of Richmond Syndicate.
Nick is wary of Pacaya and said, “Four-year-olds often run well with low weights. I benefitted from that in 2018 with Made To Conquer.”
Nick is happy with his charges draws, two for Without Question, six for Do It Again and seven for See It Again.
Seven has been a lucky number for the connections of See It Again as he won the Daily News 2000 with saddle cloth seven, having drawn seven, and Michael Roberts’ only July win as a jockey was in 1997 on the number seven horse Super Quality. Seven was also the favourite number of Nick’s late father Benji.
However, Nick said, “I don’t think the draw in the July is as important as people make out, horses win from all over the place. I think there are other more important factors in the July, although the one draw I don’t like is draw one.”
Asked what he believed were the most important factors for a July winner, he said, “I think the pre-parade is often a bit tough for some horses, because they can get over-heated. A calm horse maybe has a small advantage. I think early pace is very important to try and get into a reasonable position, because it is a big field. That is a small disadvantage for See It Again, because he is often just a little slow out the gates. I think you also want a horse who doesn’t only get 2200m but gets 2400m, because in the July you have to have a horse who stays on and people often forget about that little hill around the turn at Greyville (not to mention the steady incline on the back straight). When they send them a bit early that hill catches them.”
Nick also feels the class and experience of jockeys is very important and also the amount of confidence they have in their mounts.
He said, “I feel fortunate to have hooked up with Piere Strydom for See It Again. Nobody has got more experience than he has. Richard Fourie is riding really well at the moment and he is full of confidence which helps Without Question. And of course Gavin Lerena won the July two years ago and he’s a very experienced jockey and is feeling very good about Do It Again. To have three jockeys of that ilk and all feeling confident about their mounts is a big advantage.”
Asked specifically about his three horses, Nick replied, “I think they’ve all got their own chances in different ways. In my mind there is no question that in current terms See It Again is the best horse in the race, but to carry 56.5kg would set a new record because no three-year-old has ever done that. It could make it very difficult and I’m surprised that he is such a hot favourite. I think Without Question getting 2kg from See It Again puts him right into the mix. Wherever See It Again is Without Question should be pretty much all over him. Do It Again loves the July, he loves Durban and seems to come right this time of the year. Everything is in his favour and, frankly, a couple of times running in the July he hasn’t been at his best and he’s still run a place and this year he is very, very well. I don’t think you can count him out. He is well weighted too, so we’re really hoping for a big run and I really hope he runs a place to keep his record intact.”
Reflecting on a win for Do It Again, he said, “Well that would be incredible. There wouldn’t be a dry eye anywhere, certainly in our box! It’s a helluva ask but if he ran in the first four it would be fantastic.”
He continued, “I am lucky because I think both See It Again and Without Question will be better four-year-olds than three-year-olds. They’re both very progressive and they’re improving. Without Question has a wonderful approach. He has a great disposition, he can run from anywhere, he can be up with the pace or off the pace. He’s easy to manoeuvre and he’s got a bit of gatespeed. The options are looking good for him and he’s such a sensible horse the crowd is not going to worry him. He’s a big tough horse, I don’t think the tough race will worry him too much. I think he has a lot in his favour. Richard is very confident and it always helps when the jockey is confident.”
Gavin Lerena is also confident and Nick revealed, “He’s feeling very confident about Do It Again. We asked him after the gallop and he is feeling very good about the horse. You can’t win unless you feel good about your horse. Gavin’s been studying Do It Again’s racing style and has it all worked out. So let’s hope he does well.”
The July favourite’s jockey Piere Strydom exudes the self confidence all sporting greats possess, but he is usually underspoken before the races.
Nick specifically looks for classic horses when he buys at the sales, so he looks for stallions who can produce classic winners.
He said, “I found one in Twice Over. I have now had three Twice Overs (Do It Again, Double Superlative and See It Again) who have won Gr 1s for me and I think The United States (sire of Withou Question) has got that because his horses can go a mile-and-a-half like Twice Over’s. There are very few stallions in South Africa that can do that.”
Do It Again will become the first horse to ever run in six Julys and, of course, could become the first two win the race three times.
More history associated with him is that See It Again is his three-parts brothers, being by the same sire out of a half-sister (by Visionaire) to Do It Again.
Do It Again has had a special saddle cloth sown for him which has five of the familiar Hollywoodbets stars on it depicting his five previous runs with two of them bigger than the others to depict his two victories. It is most fitting he is number six and drawn six in his record-breaking sixth run in the big race.
It is also fitting he jumps alongside his younger relative.
Nick concluded by pointing out one of his foremost thoughts whenever a big race is approaching, “It is always better being on the front page of the Sunday paper than on the back page of Friday’s paper!”