Twenty-five years of the Rothman's July Handicap and what a silver jubilee it was - the best attendance in many years, tote figures on the day and the race itself setting new marks, a classy field and to crown it all, victory to a three-year-old for the first time since Yataghan way back in 1973. So much for the opinion of those knowledgeable racing folk who had expressed in pre-race interviews that the current sophomore crop wasn't on a par with their predecessors.
Perhaps the detractors of the 1986-87 season second-termers could argue that one swallow doesn't necessarily make a summer, Bush Telegraph being the sole representative of his age group in the Blue Riband of the South African turf. Be that as it may, one cannot argue against the result - victory by an impressive 1 ¼ lengths, not only in race-record time but in a track best of 2:13,5 for the 2200m.
Things did, however, appear a little stacked against the colt with an unblemished record in the run-up to the big race. In all bar one of his eight track appearances he had raced against his own age. He'd never taken on the class he was to meet on the 4th July, let alone proved himself at the distance. He'd been sidelined with pneumonia during his big race preparation. While setting a race record in the Daily News 2000, he'd only got home by three parts of a length from Jamaican Shore, who failed dismally in the Natal Derby next time out. Regular pilot Garth Puller had been declared as his "July" rider despite normally going to scale at 53kg - 4kg more than the colt's allotted weight. Finally, the record books revealed no hitherto unbeaten horses going on to win the race, while a mere three sophomores had landed the spoils since the Rothmans July Handicap was fist sponsored in 1963.
But all that was reckoning without a number of positive factors.
Bush Telegraph had unquestioned class on his side - no horse could have won the races he had without this attribute. Among his eight victories going into the Rothmans were major stakes like the Administrator's Champion Futurity Stakes Gr1, the Daily News 2000 Gr1, the Smirnoff Plate Gr1, the Cape of Good Hope Nursery Futurity Stakes GrII and the Rupert Ellis Brown Memorial Plate GrIII for a healthy R268 100 in career earnings.
The colt had been nurtured by Cape Town conditioner Bert Abercrombie. The trainer, who could well be dubbed the quiet man of racing, knew what it took to win a race of this calibre. As a jockey he had steered Jamaican Music to victory in the horse's third attempt at Rothman's July Handicap honours and while never up among the leaders in the national trainers' log, he does his horses well and cannot be faulted n his handling and preparation of Bush Telegraph. He never doubted the colt's ability to get the distance and it was patently obvious when Bush Telegraph stepped into the Greyville parade ring, that his preparation had been timed to a nicety.
Here was a horse who had thrived on his preparation for the race, a horse Bert Abercrombie had all along believed to be an exceptional sort, "one of the best I've ever had anything to do with" and he'd been around a few pretty good ones during his racing career.
"What beats me will win," has almost become a stock stable phrase in interviews, but when Bert Abercrombie, quietly exuding confidence, said before the race that "he's got an excellent chance, especially now that Garth has got his weight down to 49kg - he'll take a lot of beating," one was inclined to take note.
Garth Puller, a former national champion jockey and runner-up for the title four times, was first across the line aboard three-year-old Gatecrasher in the 1975 Rothmans July only to be moved back to third after an objection, but gained some consolation when booting Over The Air home four years later. This highly competent rider has been associated with Bush Telegraph from the outset of the colt's racing career, which opened with a 5 length win in a maiden juvenile plate on the 15 January last year. He's got to know the colt's every quirk and the pair have become a formidable combination.
Understandably the stable was keen to maintain the partnership in the Rothmans July, even when it was very much on the cards that Bush Telegraph would have to carry overweight. It was here that Garth Puller showed true professionalism in the daunting task of getting down to the colt's handicapped weight and in so doing, set a tacit example to a number of other riders. No artificial methods for him, but by dint of strict dieting and a vigorous exercise programme during the week leading up to the race, he was able to go to scale well within the limit yet retain his strength for the hurly-burly of race riding.
To the dedicated pair of trainer Bert Abercrombie and jockey Garth Puller add Bush Telegraph, a colt with a smart pedigree, and one had the recipe for Rothmans July Handicap success.
One often wonders why buyers go to substantial figures to acquire horses with pure sprinting pedigrees and thereby limit their opportunities of landing the major stakes, let alone even having a runner in these events. In Bush Telegraph, breeder and joint owner Graham Beck has come up with the ideal combination of both speed and stamina - the ultimate in a real racehorse. This is a formula the top studs have been aiming for of late and it's pleasing to see young horses now holding their own against older opposition over a bit of ground.
Imported by the Scott Brothers for their Highdown Stud and later domiciled at Graham Beck's Maine Chance Farms, Jungle Cove (USA) has been a valuable asset to the South African Thoroughbred breeding industry and his death this season will leave a gap hard to fill. An impeccably bred horse by Nasrullah's brilliant racehorse and winner-getting son Bold Ruler, eight times leading sire and sire of eleven champions, out of prolific stakes producing mare Santorin, dam of among others Epsom Oaks Gr1 winner Long Look, Jungle Cove (USA) won six times up to 2200m and has left the winners of more than $2,43 million in America alone. Four times South African champion sire, his legion of stakes winners are too numerous to mention. Suffice to say that through Bush Telegraph, he's sets to clinch his fifth champion sire's title in this country.
Bush Telegraph's dam Maiden Over won three times at the minimum distance, but at stud has more than once got progeny capable of going a bit of ground with the likes of Waikato and Olympian, and now the exceptional son of Jungle Cove (USA).
Hers is an interesting pedigree chock-a-block with lack type winners. By Persian Gulf horse Persian Wonder (GB), many times SA champion sire, Maiden Over is out of sprinting No Ball (GB), Bull Lea horse Hill Gail, whose five races included the Kentucky Derby and Santa Anita Derby, out of Court Martial stakes winning mare No Appeal, from a sister to the speedy Denturius, perhaps best remembered in this country as the sire of crackerjack sprinter and weight carrier Black Cap (Ire). Maiden Over's dam line is that which has produced stakes wines in her full sisters No Wonder and Have A Ball, full brother to Ton Up, half-brother Lords (SNL), and going back to Strong Drink, Wind Song, Black Dragoness, Hays and now South African based sires Piaffer (USA) and Song of Songs (GB).
With every winner there has to be a loser and on this occasion, it was unfortunately that tremendous horse Model Man, who proved once again that you can give weight or you can give start, but rarely can you give both, particularly with a horse like Bush Telegraph among the opposition. Model Man was beaten, but far from disgraced.
Coming off a sequence of five straight victories which included the Mainstay 1800, Barclays National 200 000 and the J&B Metropolitan, Model Man, at 57kg, had been set to give weight all round in the Rothmans field.
In his only start after the publication of the 1987 weights, Model Man slammed his rivals by a widening 6 lengths in Clairwood's 1600m Schweppes Challenge Gr1 to emerge a worthy ante-post favourite and the one they would all have to beat to claim top honours in the R350 000 Gr1 event at Greyville on July 4.
Reluctant to enter the pens in both the Metropolitan and Schweppes Challenge, Model Man was the first one loaded in the July field and gave no trouble as he walked quietly into his number three berth. He broke on terms when the gates were sprung but with first Enchanted Garden, then Potomac (Arg) followed by other wider drawn runners coming over, soon lost his position to go behind the Drill Hall with only two runners trailing him.
Potomac (Arg) went out to set a cracking pace from his stable companions Enchanted Garden and Jungle Rock with Bush Telegraph ideally placed in fourth spot racing through the 1200 marker where Model Man was some 12 lengths off the pace. Basil Marcus then decided to improve his position and had to pull off the fence to take Model Man round the outside.
At the turn it was Potomac (Arg) by one from Enchanted Garden and Jungle Rock with Bush Telegraph being eased out for his run. Across the subway Jungle Rock was at the head of affairs with Bush Telegraph in top gear on his outside with Wild West, Melun (USA) and Model Man - although still a good 6 lengths in arrear - appearing the one most likely to pose the biggest threat.
Into the final three hundred and Jungle Rock had had enough, leaving Wild West and Melun (USA) to pressure Bush Telegraph with Model Man, wide out, pulling in the leaders with every stride. Bush Telegraph responded magnificently to the left handed stick from Garth Puller to put back the combined Rixon challenge of Wild West and Melun (USA), but for Model Man the line came too soon.
The answer to whether or not Bush Telegraph could have found more had Model Man managed to get to him in that final drive to the line will never be known. One thing is certain though. In the day Bush Telegraph won and won very well by 1 ¼ lengths from a somewhat unlucky Model Man.
On the 4th July luck may well have deserted Model Man but then as was said in these columns two issues back, "it will take a helluva good sort or extreme ill-fortune to lower the colours of unbeaten Bush Telegraph." C'est la vie.
For the record, former J&B Metropolitan winner and second in the 1986 Rothmans July, Wild West stayed on to pip stable-mate Melun (USA) for third money, little more than 3 lengths off the winner. Others to share in the massive stake were Jungle Rock and longshot Sandyman (SNL), who ran a surprisingly good race to finish sixth. With the winner's share of the prize at R210 000, Bush Telegraph's career earnings rocketed to R478 100 - not a bad return for his R110 000 purchase price as a yearling - while Model Man took a step closer to becoming the country's first equine millionaire, his balance standing at R868 440.
With about 36 000 racing fans packing the stands and enclosures, Greyville had its best attendance since building alterations to the impressive stands were completed a number of years back. Tent town in the centre of the track spilling over onto Royal Durban Golf Club fairways, has become an increasingly popular place to spend the day and this year accommodated close on 7 500 racegoers.
Club catering staff were tested to the limit, handling some 40% more business than the previous year. Tote turnover for the day rocketed to a track all-time best of R9 388 007, of which R3 658 283 was on the Rothmans July Handicap in win and place, swinger and trifecta betting, while the jackpot, place accumulator and Pick 6 accounted for R1 728 364 of the day's take.
All in all a most satisfying Rothmans July Handicap silver jubilee.
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