S’Manga Khumalo’s ride in the Hollywoodbets Durban July on Saturday will go down as one of the great rides of the big race.
“Closer” is American racing slang for a horse who runs on from behind and nobody could have envisioned the closer Sparkling Water leading in the early stages.
Pomp And Power, who has been known to set the pace, was drawn 8 and was going to have to try and find cover to prevent him from pulling like he did in the Daiy News. This was especially considering he had settled when finding cover in the Jonsson Workwear Cape Derby, which he won easily.
None of the other horses drawn inside of Sparkling Water’s number 12 gate were going to want to lead.
However, outside of her there was the like of Astrix, a handy type who was going to have to be up there to have any chance from draw 17.
Khumalo thus had a gameplan and he made his winning move from the jump.
He bounced Sparkling Water out and made a beeline for the rail.
It probably surprised him he was able to get there without expending much energy, considering the usual scrimmaging and jostling for position in the early stages of this notoriously rough race.
When Puerto Manazano and Astrix came around Sparkling Water on the first turn to take the lead and set no more than a steady pace it was effectively race over.
She had come from way off the pace in the Champions Challenge, a race in which later analysis showed the winner Astrix to be going at the correct pace in second position, way ahead of her.
She had thus done phenomenally well to run on and lose by just a head.
That was a weight for age race and on Saturday she was carrying just 53.5kg.
Sitting in the box seat as a closer with a resolute finish behind a slowish pace, the writing was on the wall for the rest of the field.
Every July winner requires some luck.
The anxious moments for her connections would have been when she was stuck behind Puerto Manazano and Astrix as the rest of the vanguard fanned out approaching the straight.
However, Astrix moved outward at the top of the straight and Puerto Manzano stayed straight meaning Khumalo could go through the gap before any horse had the opportunity to steal much of a march.
Do It Again had done his best to do so and went clear at the top of the straight, but Sparkling Water had fetched him by the 300m mark.
She is a filly who winds up into her run, so nobody was going to catch her after she had hit the front so early off a slowish pace.
She galloped to the fourth easiest victory in the great race’s history – three lengths.
Riboville (1974) holds the record of 4,50 lengths, followed by Royal Chalice (1988), who won by 3,60 lengths and Mazarin (1971), who won by 3,25 lengths.
Khumalo was in a difficult position before the race as he was associated with two strong contenders, Sparkling Water and Jet Dark.
He opted for the right one.
Jet Dark finished second under Bernard Fayd’Herbe, a twice July-winning jockey who flew in from Mauritius.
Khumalo became the first black jockey to win the July in 2013 and later became the first black jockey to be national champion.
He has won the national championship twice and has now won two Julys.
He grew up in Kwamashu and received the biggest cheer when all of the riders were introduced before the race.
His agent Monty Mariemuthoo has played a big part in his revival after he had gone through a relatively lean spell in the 2017/2018 and 2018/2019 seasons.
Picture: There are many smiles and triumphant gestures in the crowd as Sparkling Water powers to victory under S’Manga Khumalo (Anneke Akal Kitching).