Jackson's the one to beat
THE Durban July is wide open this year - any one of the 20 runners could conceivably win the country's most famous horse race.
That might sound like a truism, but in most years the experts can safely rule out at least a half a dozen entries, with another five or six being just borderline hopefuls.
This time around it isn't so easy. Once you look beyond hot-pot favourite Jackson, a fair case can be made for most of the rest.
And the key thing is that there are "issues" with Jackson.
He has drawn starting stall No16. Horses do win from wide draws - most notably Jackson's own father Dynasty, from No20 gate in the 2003 July - but a wide draw is a definite disadvantage.
Then there is the question of the weight allotted to Jackson by the handicapper. Many students of the game say the 57kg is less than he should be carrying considering his record and official merit rating - so he is at an advantage to many opponents.
But other pundits note that it is more than any three-year-old has ever carried in the race.
The July is the race every owner, trainer and jockey dreams of having on the résumé, so no effort is spared in preparation and tactics. Indeed, it's often a "rough" race, with riders scrimmaging and scrambling for a favourable racing position - as happened last year.
This means luck in running is a major factor and brings most contenders in with a chance.
THE RUNNERS (number, name, weight, jockey)
1 PIERRE JOURDAN 60kg (Fradd) - Placed second last year and known as "The People's Horse" in his home town, Johannesburg. Always tries hard; should give a run for money.
2 TALES OF BRAVERY 59.5 (Coetzee) - As game as his name. But heavy weight, a distance to stretch him and a wide draw might discount a happy ending.
3 CASTLETHORPE 59 (Neisius) - From the yard of master trainer Mike Bass, but this might be too far.
4 BEACH BEAUTY 58 (Cormack) - One of several talented fillies in the race. Chance.
5 CHESALON 58 (Lloyd) - Ex-champion jockey Jeff Lloyd is back from his new home in Australia to try to win his first July. He's been third umpteen times.
6 JACKSON 57 (Teetan) - The top middle-distance three-year-old in SA, with five wins from seven starts. A young, promising jockey; a wide draw and an intriguing weight allocation are headscratchers. The horse to beat.
7 POLAR BOUND 57 (Randolph) - Leaves us cold.
8 SMANJEMANJE 57 (Van Niekerk) - Picked as winner by the official Greyville nyanga, who has an abysmal tipping record. Not now. Or ever.
9 ENGLISH GARDEN 56.5 (Fayd'Herbe) - Third last year and prepared to peak for this. Big chance.
10 TOP SELLER 56.5 (Byleveld) - Others have more appeal.
11 GOLD ONYX 56 (G Lerena) - Does well on this Greyville course. If his excellent jockey can time the run right, he might threaten.
12 SOLO TRAVELLER 56 (Yeni) - Capable, but lost his way for a while. Dark horse.
13 SAGE THRONE 55.5 (Fourie) - Superb public gallop last week. Good outsider.
14 POMODORO 55 (Strydom) - Brilliant jockey but widest draw.
15 ROYAL BENCHER 55 (B Lerena) - Name is judicial reference, but it might be more appropriate to think of it as on the sidelines, not good enough.
16 VETTEL 53.5 (Marcus) - From the stable of champion Mike de Kock. Strongest jockey in the world on board and one cannot discount him.
17 GORONGOSA 53.5 (Shea) - Brilliant filly from De Kock. Perhaps better over longer distances, but could be a factor.
18 ILHA BELA 53 (Delpech) - Adorable little grey filly who runs like the wind. Jockey Anthony Delpech is going for three July victories in a row. Wide draw but big chance.
19 WHITELINE FEVER 53 (Danielson) - Trier, not a scorer.
20 ETON SQUARE 53 (Hatt) - Only run four times and won twice. Strictly speaking, he shouldn't be in the race, but the handicappers wanted to spice things up. Highly rated and he might sneak in off a low weight. Great value at 33/1.