Eyes Wide Open has come tumbling down the betting. In mid-May you could get 75-1 about him but he is now as short as 12-1 with only four horses – Hawwaam, Do It Again, Rainbow Bridge and Barahin – considered to have a better chance in Saturday’s Vodacom Durban July.
“Do the maths,” says Glen Kotzen. “In last year’s Cape Derby he beat Do It Again by a length and three-quarters at levels and now he is 7kg better.”
In fact Eyes Wide Open was to have gone for last year’s July – he was the early favourite – until Kotzen saw signs of a chip when the horse’s fetlock was x-rayed. He had it removed and gave him the necessary rest. That patience has been rewarded with the World Sports Betting 1900 and a close second in the Cup Trial.
“Eyes Wide Open is back to his best, back to when he won the Cape Derby,” the Woodhill trainer enthuses. “He put up a fantastic gallop last Thursday and the jockey battled to pull him up.”
An 18 draw briefly took the wind out of his sails but Kotzen is blessed with a supremely optimistic outlook on life that owners find both encouraging and infectious. It didn’t take long before he was back looking on the bright side. “I won’t say that we were not worried about that draw but we were dealt it and we are going to deal with it.
“In fact it might be a blessing in disguise and maybe it will keep him out of trouble. We just have to pray that Warren Kennedy finds a nice clear passage and doesn’t end up running wide.”
Kotzen has been following the progress of the favourite with particular interest because of the parallels he sees with Big City Life ten years ago. “He has had a not dissimilar prep to Big City Life who won the Cape Derby, the KRA Guineas and the Daily News.
“The one real difference is that the conditions of the July have changed and, whereas Big City Life came in off 51kg, Hawwaam has to carry 56kg. He is the best three-year-old in South Africa but it is going to be tough for him.
“My horse is absolutely flying and he is making it all so exciting for us. All we need now is to have luck in running.”
As if to gather that luck around him Kotzen looks back to ten years ago. “It was the most amazing thing – the horse was on a roll and we were on a roll. You just couldn’t stop us and with every race that went by we got more and more confident. In fact I was so confident about the July that I felt almost invincible.
“The only time I got butterflies in my stomach was when I saw that Big City Life was cruising and Pocket Power was some seven or eight lengths behind him. I thought: “Oh my God, I am going to win this!”
By Michael Clower