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Father and son training team Brett and James Crawford were able to enjoy  Hollywoodbets Durban July victory more the second time around as they were overwhelmed by emotion after their first win of the iconic race last year. (Candiese Lenferna Photography)

It pays to understand handicapping and two industrymen who understand it well are the father and son training combination of Brett and James Crawford.

It is no coincidence that they landed a second successive Hollywoodbets Durban July on Saturday , this time with the Vercingetorix gelding Oriental Charm, although their training skills and ability to think out of the box have had just as much impact on their success rate.

This is not to detract from the trainers of the beaten horses on Saturday, especially the runner up Sean Tarry, who is also well known for his meticulous understanding of the merit rating system.

A trainers first prize if having a top horse on his or her hands would be weight for age Gr 1 events with the July as a bonus.

However, when having the perfect July horse on one’s hands i.e. an under the radar , up and coming sort, winning the the July can be made easier with the right training regime and right racing program.

A sound knowledge of handicapping plays a role in choosing the right program for a horse.

The Crawfords repeated last year’s win with Winchester Mansion almost to a tee.

Both Winchester Mansion and Oriental Charm travelled down from Randjesfontein three times to run in the Gr 2 WSB 1900, the Gr 3 Hollywoodbets Dolphins Cup Trial and the Gr 1 Hollywoodbets Durban July. They both finished a 0,30 length second in the 1900, they won the Cup Trial by 3,10 and 1,20 lengths respectively and they both won the July by 0,25 and 0,30 lengths respectively.

This year there was a conditions change that saw the older horses minimum weights being raised by 1kg. Older males had to carry 54kg instead of 53kg.

It is ironic that had this change been in place last year, then on paper See It Again would have beaten Winchester Mansion and had this change not been in place this year then on paper Cousin Casey would have beaten Oriental Charm.

However, that is not to take anything away from either winner or the Crawford’s superbly executed plans on both occasions.

In fact it was one of the reasons for Brett Crawford’s confidence going onto the race.

He said after the race on Saturday, “A lot of people forgot that as a three-year-old he was giving those older horses weight (when second in the WSB 1900 and winning the HWB Dolphins Cup Trial) and today there was a massive turnaround in the weights.”

He added, “It is another well executed plan. He did everything right, the horse had a flawless prep, he looked amazing today and I thought JP gave him an outstanding ride.”

JP van der Merwe’s ride would have been celebrated as one of the all time great July rides had he not transgressed in the closing stages by failing to keep Oriental Charm straight, whch earned him a 16 day suspension.
Historians will be looking through July records to try and ascertain who the last horse was to lead from start to finish. The last pacemaker to win was London News in 1996, but he was only in second place when they reached the first turn before taking over, whereas Oriental Charm literally led from start to finish.
Brett Crawford concluded by saying about his second win of the iconic race, “It feels better than the first because we are taking it in more today and really enjoying the day … amazing.”

As far as thinking out of the box is concerned, opening a Highveld satellite yard appeared to be a strange move for the Crawford yard three years or so ago. Little did everybody know that one of the chief reasons was to use it as a base for the preparation of their Champions Season horses. Training at altitude is well known as a big booster to athletic peformance and the success of Highveld-trained horses in KZN races provides some anecdotal evidence that it works just as well in equine athletes as it does in human beings.

James runs the satellite yard in Johannesburg.

Last year Winchester Mansion defied the belief, based on anecdotal evidence, that a horse could not travel down from altitude three times and still win. Oriental Charm did the same this year as well as going into the race off that aforementioned identical preparation.

Next year the Crawford yard will be out to equal Justin Snaith’s feat this millennium of capturing the July three times in a row, which is one off the record four successive Julys set by the great trainer Fred Murray from 1910 to 1913.

So punters should keep a close eye on their under the radar three-year-olds in the forthcoming season and on four-yeaar-olds who also fit into that category.