There's an old saying in horseracing that one should always keep the best company, but keep your horses in the worst.
The wisdom of this was displayed in the Vodacom Durban July at Greyville on Saturday. Trainer Justin Snaith notched up his fifth July victory with Belgarion.
This followed a year's meticulous planning – keeping the four-year-old gelding progressing towards a spot in the 2020 July field, but away from elite company to keep his handicap weight as low as possible.
As beribboned Belgarion did the traditional victory canter down the Greyville track, there were isolated shouts of congratulation.
This wasn't because he was an unpopular winner (he started as the 9-2 second favourite), but because there was almost no one in the vast grandstands.
Coronavirus ensured an historic "behind-closed-doors" running of SA's most famous race.
Only a gaggle of stable hands and security officials were on hand to hear commentator Craig Peters call the runners home on a sunny winter's day at Durban's downtown racecourse.
After Belgarion crossed the line a length clear of three-year-old star Got The Greenlight and the redoubtable Do It Again, the/\r\n/
first thing jockey Richard Fourie blurted out was: "This has been a year in the making. Six months ago I said to Justin 'I want to/\r\n/
ride this horse in the July; we must just keep the weight down'."
Snaith made no secret of his strategy to go into the July with the best-weighted horse. The son of Dynasty had some problems early in his career, but the ace trainer always spoke of his great potential.
He specifically mentioned that Belgarion's final preparation race, the Greyville 1,900 in June, was chosen as the conditions precluded any rise in the winner's merit rating.
And win it he did, ensuring a July spot, weighted under sufferance without ever having tackled a Grade 1 contest.
A wide draw of 17 for the July threatened to derail the careful planning, but Snaith refused to allow it to phase him, saying earlier in the week: "It is what it is. If we have to work harder to win, we will."
The July victory gave Belgarion his seventh win in nine runs – and from now on there will be no more lenient weightings for him.
It was Fourie's third July triumph – after Legislate in 2014 and Do It Again in 2019.
It was a first July win for owner-breeders Mr Alec and Mrs Gillian Foster, a UK-based couple who have raced horses in SA for decades.
It was a second July success for Belgarion's sire Dynasty, after Legislate's controversial victory in the boardroom in 2014.
Dynasty, of course, won the race himself back in 2003.
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