Linebacker heads field for South Africa's premier race, the Durban July Handicap
It’s a big weekend for international racing, but for one major racing country it’s their biggest of the year.
Saturday sees the staging of the Durban July Handicap, the richest race in South Africa. The 2,200-meter (about 1 3/8-mile) contest at Greyville Racecourse in Durban is South Africa’s equivalent of the Kentucky Derby, Grand National, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, or Melbourne Cup — the race that garners the biggest attention from non-racing fans.
It brings together the best three-year-olds and the best older horses, and as a handicap it is very competitive for bettors. So let’s have a look at the lineup.
Most of the best three-year-olds are present. They have been a relatively even bunch this season. Probably the best has been #10 Safe Passage, who put up an outstanding performance to win the Daily News 2000 (G1). Other outstanding three-year-olds have been South African Classic (G1) winner #14 Red Saxon, South African Derby (G1) winner #1 Aragosta, Cape Derby (G1) winner #8 Pomp And Power, and Daily News 2000 fourth #7 Waterberry Lane.
Three former winners of the race are present: last year’s winner #13 Kommetdieding, 2020 victor #11 Belgarion, and #2 Do It Again, a seven-year-old veteran who won the race in 2018 and 2019. Do It Again turned back the years when winning the World Sports Betting 1900 (G2) May 14, while Kommetdieding earlier this season won the Sun Met (G1).
Kommetdieding was a little disappointing when fifth at his last start, the Champions Challenge (G1) April 30. The four horses in front of him that day — #17 Astrix, the filly #12 Sparkling Water, Argentina-bred #5 Puerto Manzano, and #18 Flying Carpet — are all back to oppose him. If Kommetdieding gets back to his Met form he is right in this, even with 60 kg.
Perhaps the most important lead-up for the older horses, however, will be the Gold Challenge (G1) at Greyville June 11. That was won by #16 Al Muthana from last year’s July runner-up #4 Linebacker, with Queen’s Plate (G1) winner #9 Jet Dark third. Al Muthana has not won past a mile and is a serious doubt at 2,200 meters, while Jet Dark can be hard to follow, but Linebacker looks set to run very well again.
A scratching has allowed #19 Airways Law into the field, and he won’t be out of it either judging by his Cup Trial (G3) victory June 11. Multiple group winner #15 Second Base and Premier Trophy (G2) winner #3 Hoedspruit complete the field.
It’s a very, very difficult race to predict. But I’m going with Linebacker to go one better — he will stay the trip, and he’s not badly in at the weights with 58.5 kg. Safe Passage is probably the best of the three-year-olds, but I have a little more faith in Pomp And Power at the weights and the distance. I’ll also add a sneaky place bet on Airways Law.