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Owners Greg Bortz and Gina Goldsmith take a video call in one of the proudest moments of their lives shortly after their horse Oriental Charm had won the Hollywoodbets Durban July (Candiese Lenferna Photography)

The South African racing industry celebrated a Hollywoodbets Durban July win of special significance as everybody agreed there could not have been a more deserving winning owner than Greg Bortz, whose input into the industry has been immensely impactful over the last couple of years.

When the Brett Crawford-trained Vercingetorix gelding Oriental Charm flashed past the line 0,30 lengths clear of Cousin Casey it was the conversion of a long held dream for the Durban-born Bortz.

He said after the race on Saturday, “It sounds cliched, but growing up just up the road, it truly is a dream come true.”

Greg grew up a stones throw away from Greyville racecourse and was first attracted to the sport when hearing the commentaries from his childhood household in Florida Road.

He owns Oriental Charm together with his girlfriend Gina Goldsmith as well as Leon Ellman, while jockey JP van der Merwe could also celebrate a first July victory.

It was a second successive July victory for the father and son training team of Brett and James Crawford.

Greg said in an interview a couple of years ago that he had found it “surreal” to have a runner in the July, the Justin Snaith-trained Pomp And Power, who started favourite but could only manage tenth place.

If just having a runner was surreal it is little wonder that he described the finish and aftermath on Saturday as a “blur” … he must have literally been on cloud nine.

To give some background into his Durban days, he recalled in the aforementioned interview that his first ever bet was R5 on Lightning Shot in the 1977 July. The Des Rich-trained four-year-old won under Leslie Mustard at odds of 10/1.

“There was no coming back from that!” he had laughed at the time of the interview, although since becoming a big  owner he does not have a cent on his horses as he prefers “the photo-finish.”

A few of his friends at the school he went to, Carmel College, were also racing fans and he recalls one of them bringing his racing newspaper pull outs to school.

One of his schoolmates, Nick Sternberg, was the son of Martin Sternberg who owned horses like Spanish Pool.

Oriental Charm’s victory fell on the 40th anniversary of Spanish Pool’s first attempt at the July in 1984, where he finished seventh, before finishing fifth the following year.

It also fell on the 20th anniversary of Greys Inn’s July win, which is of importance because Oriental Charm is out of a Greys Inn mare.

Nevertheless, Greg admitted to not being too confident before Saturday’s  race.

He said, “This felt like the most open Hollywoodbets Durban July I can remember. I knew the horse was spot on, but I knew everyone was going to rely on us to make the pace. I knew him to be a keen horse who pings the gate so well he would find himself in front. So I wasn’t confident because how could a front running horse win over 2200m? It’s not an easy task in a Hollywoodbets Durban July. So, no, I wasn’t confident.”

However, as the day panned out, Greg confirmed his confidence grew.

He said immediately after the race, “The tailwind helped, although it has died down. For a while it was like the Gods were favouring us.”

However, the race itself was an emotional roller coaster.

“The one thing this horse has shown us over and over again, is he has heart like no horse I’ve ever owned. I thought he was beat twice and he came back twice. It is as JP likes to say, ‘He’s a boytjie!’”

Asked, due to the tightness of the finish, whether he had only begun celebrating as the horse crossed the line, he replied, “No only about 200m after the line! I wasn’t sure. You are so focused on your horse it was only about ten minutes later I found out who the runner up was, it was all a blur!”

Greg has become an industry hero due to the incredible job he has done in revitalising Cape Racing from a position where it was literally on the brink of being closed down. His influence has seen the positivity in SA racing turning full circle from free fall into an upward trend.

He did it with the help of Hollywoodbets and these two partners are all set to be do the same in KZN.

However, the first time Greg was in the spotlight was at the 2022 BSA National Yearling Sale.

At the time his Gr 1 Cape Derby-winning hero Pomp And Power, a Vercingetorix gelding, was one of the favourites for the July.

At Nationals Greg seemed intent on cornering the Vercingetorix market. On day one seven of the eight lots he splashed out on were by Vercingetorix.

The July must have been in his mind and the plan came together on Saturday, because among those seven purchases was Oriental Charm himself.

Ironically, the Cheveley Stud-bred colt went relatively cheaply at R375,000, considering the average for Vercingetorix was more than R600,000.

However, Bortz had done his homework, if the July was indeed his aim, as it is clear to see from his pedigree why the gelding stayed so well on Saturday. His dam called Souk is by July winner Greys Inn and, although this Listed-placed mare’s three wins were from 1200m to 1600m, she is out of an unraced Strike Smartly mare who was an own sister to SA Derby winner Bouquet-Garni.

Furthermore, Vercingetorix is the son of the greatest July sire in history, Silvano. So Oriental Charm has a fine July pedigree with both Silvano and Greys Inn close up.

As well as a Vercingetorix exacta, there was also an exacta for Durban-born owners in Saturday’s July as the runner up Cousin Casey’s owner Ravi Naidoo is also Durban-born.

Naidoo said on the morning after the race, “It was a squeaker, so close, but what a privilege. I feel only gratitude this morning.”

The race was full of controversy as usual and Ravi’s other runner, Future Swing, was the biggest victim. Shoemaker sufferered epistaxis halfway through and when he dropped back suddenly See It Again was forced inward and this saw Future Swing being squeezed against the rail.

Ravi said, “Richard Fourie was almost thrown over the rail, he returned with scuff marks in his boot. Future Swing lost shoes in the fracas and we are worried the incident was so bad it may have put paid to his career.”

See It Again suffered more interference later.

Piere Strydom said, “I tried to get there as late as possible and I feel he was catching slowly. The best I was going to do was third, but at the end I had to stop riding when JP cut me off. I don’t blame him, it’s the July and sometimes we do silly things in this race, but it cost me third place.”

JP was given a 16 day suspension for the transgression.

Two other KZN horses benefited from the Michael Roberts-trained See It Again’s misfortune as the Nathan Kotzen-trained Royal Victory finished third and the Gareth van Zyl-trained Flag Man was fourth.

It is interesting to note that had the old rules been in place then it would be runner up Cousin Casey’s owner Ravi Naidoo who would be revelling in July glory and trainer Sean Tarry and jockey S’Manga Khumalo would both be celebrating a third July win respectively.

The old rules stated that a horse just had to have been cost a place by the offending horse for the latter to be demoted, whereas the new rules state that the interfered with horse would have had to have beaten the horse who interfered with him or her for the result to be changed.

See It Again, who finished fifth, was cost third place by Oriental Charm, who ran across him just before the line. However, no objection was forthcoming because as Strydom himself admitted he would not have finished better than third.

However, the interference undoubtedly cost See It Again third place and under the old rule Cousin Casey would have been declared the winner with Royal Victory second, Flag Man third, See It Again fourth and Oriental Charm only fifth.

The rule change was likely made to ensure the best horse wins the race and Oriental Charm was no doubt the best horse at the weights on Saturday and the deserved winner.

Cousin Casey was earmarked as a future July winner after a flawless Hollywoodbets Greyville campaign as a two-year-old, which saw him winning a Listed race , a Grade 2 and a Grade 1, and his flying finish along the inside on Saturday rail was only scuppered by the tremendous resolve and courage of Oriental Charm.

Cousin Casey has a stud career ahead and victory would have seen his value increasing.

As Ravi said on Sunday morning, nobody remembers the runner up.

He said it would be ascertained how well Cousin Casey had pulled up before planning his next move.

However, the July bug has probably bitten like never before for Ravi and he is likely to be thinking of a July winner when next at the sales.