HONG Kong bound jockey Grant van Niekerk will ride Gr1 Vodacom Durban July favourite African Night Sky in the big race on 7 July at Greyville.
The 16-10 chance did not have a jockey declared when the final field was announced on Tuesday – as was the case with another runner from the Justin Snaith stable, race second favourite Do It Again. That mount has gone to former champion jockey Anton Marcus, who is returning to racing after an injury break of several weeks.
As is the case every year, the announcement of the final field for the R4.25-million Vodacom Durban July made some people happy, while others were left ruing the fact their horses had been omitted.
There were 18 horses declared as runners, with two others added as reserves should any of the final 18 be withdrawn. If there are no scratchings, then the reserves will be pulled out of the race at 8.15am on Friday 6 July.
African Night Sky will go into the race as a fairly hot favourite and his chances were not dampened by the fact he drew No 10 barrier position. Being in the middle of the field should be ideal for this four-year-old son of Dynasty.
Based on his close-up sixth place in the Sun Met at Kenilworth in January, many pundits make African Night Sky the horse to beat as they believe he is better than his rating and is, therefore, well handicapped.
“He has had the perfect prep and he is the horse to beat,” agreed Snaith at yesterday’s draw.
Snaith has five runners in the field and his others are Elusive Silva, to be ridden by Bernard Fayd’Herbe, Star Express (Aldo Domeyer), Do It Again (Anton Marcus) and Made To Conquer, who will have Jeff Lloyd in the irons.
Lloyd, who will be trying to win the one race that has eluded him, was due to arrive in the country yesterday.
“Made To Conquer is a nice, quiet horse with the right temperament for the big day. With his light weight, I think he’ll be in the money.”
Piere Strydom was hoping Abashiri would draw slightly wide as he felt the SA Triple Crown winner lacked gate speed and could get squeezed out at the start. Trainer Mike Azzie was the first person called up to do the draw and, as one rarely get what one wishes for, pulled barrier No 2 for his charge.
“I was not happy to be on the rostrum last year, but I’m very happy this year,” said Azzie, who confirmed his charge was in a good space.
Duncan Howells saddles Fiorella, winner of the Daisy Fillies Guineas (Grade 2) at Greyville and a close-up second behind Sun Met winner Oh Susanna in the Grade 1 Woolavington 2000. She is a 33-1 shot but trainer Duncan Howells is not without hope and is very happy with No 8 draw. “She’s not a big filly so you don’t want to be drawn wide,” he said. “The July is a tough race and we don’t want her to get knocked around.
“She’s in a nice space and very well at the moment so I’m hoping for a good run.”
Leading jockey Richard Fourie is without a ride at this point – let’s see how things unfold.