ON and off the racetrack, Craig Zackey (25) and Callan Murray (23) are best friends. They have risen to the upper ranks of South Africa jockeys in recent seasons, both with big-race temperaments and eight Gr1 winners apiece.

Zackey (Vardy) and Murray (Soqrat) are on mounts with realistic winning chances in a competitive and open Vodacom Durban July, on Saturday. Their fans will be thinking of taking Exactas and Swingers on the welldrawn pair. Both bets will return handsomely, as they are both quoted around 12-1. (to page 2).

Zackey’s best of three previous Durban July mounts was Saratoga Dancer, a close fifth for Duncan Howells in 2016. Murray’s best of two rides was Majestic Mambo, fourth to Do It Again in 2018.

Vardy, the ultra-smart four-year-old winner of the Gr1 Queen’s Plate and three-time conqueror of the formidable Sun Met winner One World, would probably have started favourite if there were no doubts whatsoever about his ability to see out 2200m.

Despite trainer Adam Marcus saying that he’s put those fears to bed, the doubts remain, and only the race will answer Vardy’s big question mark on Saturday.

Zackey told Turf Talk: “I think Vardy will stay the distance. First off, as I’ve said before, you can draw a line through his Sun Met run over 2000m. He clipped heels early, I almost came off and he wasn’t the same after that, he didn’t contest.

“I prefer to assess him on his run in last year’s Winter Classic, where he beat One World easily over 1800m, and won full of running. I was impressed, too, with his prep run in the Gold Challenge over 1600m. The race was run at a slow pace, we were wide and he got going late. We were gaining fast on Rainbow Bridge at the end.”

Vardy was beaten in a gallop by his capable stablemate Twist Of Fate last week, drawing the attention of some fans on social media, but Zackey said: “That should be no worry at all. Vardy is very well. He is not a great track horse, he tends to adapt himself to who he is working with and does just enough. On the racetrack he changes, he gives his best.”

Trainer Adam Marcus confirmed: “Vardy always gallops in a laid-back manner, so I was very chuffed with him, he strode out well, he’s also come through his gallop very well, so very pleased.”

Zackey said he was pleased with Vardy’s Number 9 draw: “We’re in the middle, it won’t be necessary to bustle for position.”

Murray has never kept his admiration for Soqrat a secret, even when he became the regular rider of Hawwaam. He loves the five-year-old soon-tobecome a stallion, and multiple Gr1 winner, and told Turf Talk: “He is one my of my all-time favourites and we have a chance on Saturday. We’re drawn well, he’s an intelligent horse who helps you in a race, and he has a good turn of foot.”

A number of experts have noted that, on a line of form through Hawwaam, Soqrat is inferior to the likes of Rainbow Bridge and Vardy, but Murray cautioned: “Soqrat needed his last two starts when he was beaten by Hawwaam, but those two runs (beaten 5 lengths and 3.5-lengths respectively) are not an accurate reflection of his ability. He is much closer to Hawwaam than that.

“Soqrat has had a good prep, and I believe the distance will be perfect for him. In the Summer Cup he chased wide up the hill over the testing 2000m, ran through and almost won the race. We are going into this race positive.”

With TAB’s July betting having opened, it is interesting to see that the Soqrat-Vardy Exacta is the fifth-most fancied of all at this early stage, paying R47,60, and the Vardy-Soqrat Exacta pays a provisional R67,10. The most-favoured Exacta is Rainbow Bridge/Do It Again, on R36,90. (Pool just short of R25,500).

Strangely, considering the Exacta combinations, the boxed swinger of 5 and 9 doesn’t feature anywhere in the Top 20, the most fancied one being Rainbow Bridge/Do It Again at R5.80. (Pool on R93,000).