Never has a trainer had such a stranglehold on the country's most prestigious race as Millard had on this year's Rothmans July Handicap. He achieved the unprecedented feat in saddling the first three across the line.
Terrance Millard set tongues wagging back in 1983 - the year of his first July success - when he sent out three of the first four finishers, only missing out by a short-head on second money. The following year he transformed a not the soundest English mare from a maiden to a Rothmans winner in the space of 12 months. Without a runner in 1985, he was back with a vengeance this year, improving a B-division performer into an end-to-end Rothman's July Handicap winner in the space of two months.
Occult, who started at 7/1, came into the Rothmans picture when scoring a ½ length victory over Laylor and a somewhat unlucky Velozia in the 1900m Republic Day Handicap at Greyville, a race long regarded as a reliable pointer to July. Priot to that he hadn’t looked classy enough when second to Crown - a distant fourteenth of 16 in the Cape Derby - in the B division in his first Natal start of the season.
Fools Holme, who had seemingly sat poised to strike at any time, went after his stable-mate in the straight and although he closed with Occult, was never able to peg back the Kama gelding, who kept going resolutely under Rand jockey Bartie Leisher and had ¾ length to spare at the line. Model Man, who had threatened danger halfway down the straight, was found wanting in the closing stages ¾ length adrift of the American colt.
While a Millard victory was certainly not unexpected, it was the wrong horse for most punters and tipsters alike and apart from the owner and jockey, perhaps the happiest people were the bookmakers, who would have been hard-hit by either a Fools Holme or Enchanted Garden win.
To the eye, there didn't appear to be a great early pace and this would appear to be borne out by comments from Felix Coetzee and winning jockey Bartie Leisher after the race. Coetzee, not a bad judge of pace, was of the opinion that the pace was too slow for his mount Fools Holme, while Leisher, in a TV interview, said that both Coetzee and Mark Sutherland aboard Enchanted Garden called on him to increase the tempo on Occult. Tony Ross, along with Adrian Gardiner and David Fox, joint owner of Fools Holme, was also reported to have said that he felt it was a slow-run race and with no-one setting the pace, Occult went out to show the way.
Which leads one to the question: Did the July runners, and for that matter, the runners in the other eight races, cover the full distances as advertised in the race card, or did the moving of the false rail result in a lesser distance being covered? All conjecture, but a study of the times for the nine races at the meeting makes interesting reading.
Be that as it may, the record books will show that Occult is credited with the fastest time at the distance for the Rothmans July Handicap.
For the record, the July was Occult's seventh victory in 15 starts from three to four - he didn't race as a two-year-old. In fact he's been a pretty consistent horse, his fifth place finish behind Viburnum in the In Full Flight Stakes being the only time he had been out of the first two and he has now amassed R304 445 in stakes.
Bred by Mrs J. Plumbly, Occult is by Daytona-stallion Kama, a son of multiple champion racehorse and leading sire Dr Fager, out of the imported Irish mare Star, by Hyperion horse Aureole from Tamerlane's daughter, Selina. Star won twice at three years and was placed a similar number of times in England before being retired to stud. She left three winners overseas and in South Africa, is represented by a further four winners up to Occult, a product of the 1983 Emeritus sales in the Cape.
- August 1986 SA Racehorse – Analysis of the pedigree of Occult
- August 1986 SA Racehorse – The Game Gold Cup
- September 1986 Winner’s Circle – Editorial
- September 1986 Winner's Circle - The Best of 85-86
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