In the world of South African horse racing, there is one undisputed crown jewel event. The Durban July Handicap is an annual horse racing extravaganza, held each year on the first Saturday of July. The home of the Durban July – or the Vodacom Durban July, if we’re to use the full name of the race – is Greyville Racecourse. This track is based in, as you have guessed, in Durban.
There are no age restrictions on this race, with the only restriction being that only thoroughbreds may complete. The prize money is impressive, with the winner taking home 2.5 million SA Rands. That translates to around £220,000.
This race first took place in 1897, when it was ran over a distance of a single mile. The length of the track has changed multiple times over the years. Since 1970, however, consistency has been achieved. The July Handicap has been run over a course of 1.5 miles for the last 45 years.
The winner of the maiden race was Campanajo, trained by E. Murray and ridden by R. Scott. Campanajo subsequently went on to win the following year’s event – the first of only five horses to achieve back-to-back wins over the course of 123 years. This goes to show that the Durban July can be anybody’s race.
Previous Winners (Last 10 Years)
Competition for entry into the Durban July is fierce. Attendees of Greyville often get to witness some of the finest equestrian competition in the world – and this is reflected in the list of winners. Nine different horses have claimed first place in the last ten years at the Durban July. The most recent winners have been:
- 2020 – Belgarion
- 2019 – Do it Again
- 2018 – Do it Again
- 2017 – Marinaresco
- 2016 – The Conglomerate
- 2015 – Power King
- 2014 – Legislate
- 2013 – Heavy Metal
- 2012 – Pomodoro
- 2011 – Igugu
- 2010 – Bold Silvano
The oldest winner of the race was Spanish Galliard, who was impressively spritely for an 8-year-old when he claimed victory in 1992. Ipi Tombe made history of her own ten years later, when she became the first three-year-old filly to win the Durban July in over five decades. Horse racing fans will also be familiar with the name Colorado King, who went on to break world records racing in the United States.
Meanwhile, back in 2008, Dancer’s Daughter and Pocket Power could not be separated at the finish line, even with a photo finish, and shared the spoils of victory. He went on to become one of the most popular SA horses of all tie, often referred to as, “the People’s Champion.”
Most Successful Horse
Five horses have enjoyed two successive wins in South Africa’s premier race. We previously discussed how Campanajo picked up victory in the first two Durban July events. Racing enthusiasts would have wait nine years to see this impressive feat repeated. This time it was the turn of Corriecrian. Trained by F. Wade and ridden by C. Yarnell, Corriecrian notched up a win in 1907. For the second victory in 1908, the horse was both trained and ridden by W. Pickering.
Milesia Pride was the next horse to make a real mark at Greyville, picking up successive wins in 1949 and 1950. The initial victory for Milesia Pride courtesy of trainer J. Morrison and jockey H. Wright . A year later, B.Lewis took to the saddle for a follow-up success.
She four decades later, El Picha became the next double-winner. Trained by Geoff V. Woodruff and ridden to victory by Robbie Hill in 1999, the horse returned the following year to complete the double. This time, Anton Marcus was the successful jockey. He took to the front a furlong from home, with Young Rake making significant headway in the final one hundred yards, almost catching the eventual winner. In the end, however El Pica won by a nose.
More recently, the Vodacom July Handicap winner of 2018 was Do it Again. In a charming case of cognitive dissonance, the horse lived up his billing, repeating the feat in 2019. Justin Snaith was the trainer in 2018, while the horse was ridden by Anton Marcus.
Starting at 10/1 odds against, the four-year-old emerged at the front of pack, at the centre of the track, half a furlong from home. Do it Again eventually outpaced the race’s eventual runner up, Made to Conquer, and one by one and a quarter lengths.
The follow-up victory in 2019 was engineered and guided by jockey Richard Fourie. Now familiar to racers at Greyville thanks to his heroics of the precious year, Do it Again starting as the 9/2 second favourite. The horse switched to the wide outside, moving inside for the final one and half furlongs.
Thundering down the middle of the track for the final hundred yards, the eventual winner got himself in front of the bookmaker’s favourite Rainbow Quest immediately prior to the finish line. Winning the race by a neck, Do it Again became the fifth, and currently final, back-to-back winner of the Durban July. We’ll have to wait and see if 2020’s winner Belgarion can repeat the trick next year.
With five successes in the Durban July, Anton Marcus is the leading jockey in this event. Victory atop Dancing Duel, trained by Anthony T Millard, came first in in1993. Marcus has to wait seven years for his next win, but as profiled previously, that arrived in 2000 with the second successive victory for El Picha in the July Handicap.
Marcus also rode Do it Again in 2008, Hunting Tower in 2007, and Dunford in 2005. Sadly, the victory of the latter was marred by tragedy elsewhere on the track. Rabiya, the favourite to claim victory in the Durban July that year, suffered a broken leg and was subsequently destroyed.
Numerous other jockeys have enjoyed a trinity of wins at the Durban July, but none can match the quintet notched by Anton Marcus. As he is still racing in 2020, Marcus has the opportunity to further extend his lead.
Seven winning horses in just seventeen years, unfolding between 1961 and 1978, ensure that Sydney Laird is the undisputed leading trainer of the Vodacom Durban July. Victory with Kerason in 1961, ridden by G. Walker, was followed two years later in 1963 when jockey R. Siverwright rode Colorado King to victory. Back to back wins in 1966 and 1967, with Java Head, ridden by H. Cawcutt and Jollify, ridden by J. Gorton, respectively, saw the trainers tally rise to four.
Mazarin in 1971 was win number five, with jockey B. Hayden on board. B. Hayden was once again in the saddle in 1973 when Yataghan strode to victory. Five years later, in 1978 saw the seventh and final win for the trainer, when Politician came home in front, to the delight of jockey B. Hayden, and trainer Sydney Laird.
Justin Snaith is starting to breathe down the neck of Laird, though. Champagne sales in Laird’s home district must go through the roof every July, as he has trained the last three victors in this particular race – as well as coaching the winner of 2014’s handicap. Belagorian and Do it Again are joined by Legislate in the Justin Snaith-traind Greyville record books.
Why is it Called the Vodacom Durban July Handicap?
Greyville Racecourse, the home of this race, is found in Durban, South Africa. The race is completed during the first weekend of July every year. This is a handicap race, with some horses bearing weights to even out the playing field. Vodacom, who you may know better as Vodafone, sponsor the event and thus lend it their name. Sometimes, the simplest explanation really is the best!
If you’re a horse racing fan that likes the idea of visiting South Africa, you really should tie in a trip to the Vodacom Durban July. Greyville is the third-largest city in South Africa anyway, so you’ll have plenty more to see and do, and the weather is sure to be glorious.
More importantly though, you’ll get to witness one of the most celebrated events in international horse racing first-hand. The date is set as the first Saturday in July, so there’s no chance of a scheduling mishap. Take in the Vodacom Durban July for yourself, and you’ll understand why we’re making such a fuss. It really is a one-of-a-kind event.