DURBAN — S’Manga Khumalo on Saturday became the first black jockey to win the prestigious Durban July held at the Greyville Racecourse. It was the 28-year-old’s sixth group-one success, with his biggest previous victory the Summer Cup at Turffontein.
Heavy rains on Thursday forced the cancellation of the first two races on the card and it was feared the track would be very soft. However, it was not the case and the large, colourful crowd was treated to some excellent racing.
Khumalo and the four-your-old gelding Heavy Metal flashed past the post to win the July Handicap over 2,200m, giving owner Chris van Niekerk and his trainer Sean Tarry their second successive win in Africa’s biggest race.
The favourite, Capetown Noir, did not feature and at no stage looked to have any chance of winning.
Last year, Van Niekerk won with Pomodoro, who ran a disappointing race to finish 13th. His rider, Pierre "Striker" Strydom, said the colt did not show his true potential.
Khumalo said he was grateful to Tarry for giving him the opportunity to ride Heavy Metal.
"I have been with Sean Tarry since I was a young boy and he has taught me well," he said. "I rode in Australia for a short time and I want to go overseas again, but this time for a longer period."
Van Niekerk said he was thrilled and humbled by winning the race again.
The large crowd acknowledged ailing former president Nelson Mandela in his birthday month, standing in silence for about a minute before singing the national anthem. Mandela is receiving treatment in hospital for a recurring lung infection.
Plans to sell Heavy Metal would not go ahead after Sunday’s big win, said Van Niekerk.
"I would have liked to send Heavy Metal to race in Hong Kong and we were considering the matter," he said. "We will make a decision later, if the conditions are satisfactory."
Jockey Sean Cormack, who rode runner-up Run for It, said he had been well placed from the start and travelled well throughout. "I thought that we were going to win when we were alongside Heavy Metal in the home straight but, although I tried my best, Run for It was just not able to get the better of Heavy Metal."