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.
There was a flurry of excitement during the week leading up to the July when rumours had it that all was not well with Fools Holme, but these were soon scotched by the stable. Could it have been that these rumours emanated from a gallop in which Occult was said to have beaten the American colt? Substance is added to the outcome of this gallop - if it did take place - by the fact that U.K. based owner Dusty Miller, who had never seen his horse run, was reported to have said that he and his wife only decided to fly out to South Africa for the race after a telephone call from Terrance Millard. They arrived in this country a few days before the race.
Despite the rumours, Fools Holme continued to firm in the betting, as did Enchanted Garden. Earlier double couplings with other Millard stakes winners and a flood of money during the last few days before the race saw the colt unchallenged as an even-money favourite at the off. Model Man, 6/1 the day before, shortened to 7/2 second choice with Enchanted Garden coming in from 10/1 earlier in the week to 5's. Occult too found support from 12/1 the day before to 7/1.
Fools Holme, who looked a picture in the parade, broke smartly from his extreme outside berth in the field of 18 to take up a position on the rails. He was soon passed by Occult, who went out to lead from Fools Holme, Model Man and Enchanted Garden. There was no change in the order as they came into view from behind the Drill Hall, nor racing down the side, nor swinging into the home stretch, the only significant difference being that Occult had increased his advantage as the field straightened up for the run to the judge.
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.
In the opening event Man of Music equalled the class record; Bold West bettered the class record and was only a tenth outside the track time in the second; Heavenly Boy was a fifth off the track record in the third; Shacked Up two-fifths off the class record in the next; Bush Telegraph an incredible two seconds - representing some 12 lengths - better than the race record for the 1400m Administrator's Champion Futurity Stakes; Occult's record-breaking run; Bleriot's class-equalling win in the seventh, only a fifth off the course record; a class record by Sandyman (SNL) in the eighth; and King Carib with a "disappointing" time half a second outside the class record in the final event.
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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