Every serious punter in the country sat up and took note when Mike de Kock indicated on Winning Ways 17 days ago that Barahin had a better chance of winning this year’s Vodacom Durban July than the favourite.
Yet Hawwaam still heads the market at around 18-10 and, surprisingly, Barahin has hardly come down from the 7-1 at which he was available at the time of the James Goodman interview – but Muzi Yeni shares De Kock’s view about the horse’s chance and that he (Yeni) is the right man for the job.
“I’m at a prime age for a jockey (32) and over the years I have gained good experience of the July,” he says. “I know the dos and don’ts of the race, I can read the pace and how to understand how the track is running. Also I know my way round Greyville and all this will allow me to ride the horse accordingly and to the horse’s strengths.”
Greyville, apparently, is difficult and the July makes it more so: “It’s tight and in the July they tend to go fast early before slowing it down and then turning it into more of a sprint.”
Yeni has had a long association with De Kock, starting with his first winner Storm King and including Solo Traveller who finished fifth in Mike Rattray’s colours – less than a length and a half behind Pomodoro, seven years ago.
Yeni believes he could have won that year. “Solo Traveller was the best chance I’ve had so far but listening to other jockeys who had ridden him gave me the wrong idea and may well have cost me the race. Mine was the fastest 400m to the finish and, if I’d had him closer and in a better position, he would have gone very near.”
He has yet to ride Barahin in a race but this time he has put a lot of concentration into sussing the horse out for himself rather than consulting those who have partnered him in public. “I have worked him and I found him a bit of a lazy horse, the sort who will do better and give you more on a raceday.”
Yeni has also studied the horse’s racecourse performances – “He is reasonably straightforward. He doesn’t show a lot of pace in the early stages and I don’t think he is a horse that likes to be bustled so I am going to allow him to find his feet and get into the race at his own rhythm.
“My draw (6) will help as I am with fancied horses who run similar to the way he does which is coming from mid-field, or a little bit further back, so I will have my dangers around me.”
Yeni has had six previous July rides and did best on his first, Thundering Jet, who finished fourth to Big City Life in 2009. Happy Valley was fifth to Bold Silvano 12 months later but eighth is the closest he has come in three subsequent rides.
He has put a phenomenal amount of effort into trying to win the championship this season. Which would he rather win, that or the July? He grins and shakes his head. “I am not fussed – just one of them would be fantastic.”
You have to go back to Hunting Tower in 2007 to find the winner starting from gate six and, curiously, the high numbers have proved best in recent runnings. Indeed in the last nine years the winner has only twice come from a single figure pen. The winners were drawn 10 (2009), 2, 10,20,11,11,18,8, 15 (2018).
During this nine-year period four-year-olds won the race three times and three-year-olds on all the other six occasions thus supporting the long-held view that the one to go for is an improving three-year-old – like Hawwaam or Barahin.
By Michael Clower