In a day littered with upset results, 16-1 outsider Heavy Metal proved a surprise winner of South Africa's best-known horse race on July 6—the Vodacom Durban July (SAf-I). In the process, the 4-year-old son of Silvano gave rider S'Manga Khumalo the honor of becoming the first black jockey to win the famous contest.
Heavy Metal is trained in Johannesburg by Sean Tarry and arrived in Durban only 30 hours before the race. Bred by Bosworth Farm Stud, he had excellent form for owner Chris Van Niekerk coming into the July, but many punters felt the 59.5 kilograms he had to carry was too much.
Prior to his July win, Heavy Metal had pulled off a 40-1 shock when he landed the April 27 President's Champion Challenge, a grade I contest over 2,000 meters. His July prep saw him run second under the steadying weight of 62.5 kilograms in the June 9 Jubilee Handicap (SAf-I). The gelding has now won six of 20 outings, and has stamped himself as a serious contender for Horse of the Year honors.
On a soft track (so soft the first two races on the card were abandoned), the 2,200-meter July appeared to be an open race. While many questioned the merit of this year's crop of 3-year-olds, sophomore Capetown Noir was nevertheless sent off 5-1 favorite. The Western Winter colt had won two classics but was untried at the distance and had to jump from the poor draw of post 15.
Other fancied contenders for the all-ages spectacle included last year's winner Pomodoro, who had to shoulder top weight of 60 kilograms, the Justin Snaith-trained pair of Run For it and Jet Explorer, and this season's South African Derby (SAf-I) winner Wylie Hall. Former Derby winner Seal was another with his fair share of admirers, and was eventually backed at 10-1 from an opening call of 22-1.
With no strong favorite, an upset always looked a possibility—and so it proved. The early pace in the July was set by Summer Cup winner Wagner, ahead of the eventual winner's stable mate, E-Jet.
Turning for home at the top of the short Greyville straight, it was anyone's race, with a number of horses traveling strongly. The well-fancied Jet Explorer moved up strongly with 400 meters left to go and looked sure to contest the finish, but ran out of air over the final 200 meters as his stablemate Run For It kicked on strongly and looked a hard horse to oppose in the final stages.
However, just as the Snaith-trained gelding was mastering the strong challenge of the game 3-year-old filly Do You Remember, Heavy Metal was brought with a withering late run by his jockey.
Khumalo had timed his challenge to perfection, and Heavy Metal went on to claim victory by a neck from the luckless Run For It, who has now been placed in five greade I races without winning at the highest level. Do You Remember, also by champion local stallion Silvano, was a short neck away in third. No Worries, a 25-1 longshot, was the first sophomore male home in fourth place, ahead of Jet Explorer and Whiteline Fever.
Favorite Capetown Noir never looked threatening and could only finish seventh, although he was beaten less than five lengths by the winner. Neither Pomodoro or Seal ever challenged, with the latter running wide through much of the race and eventually finishing last.
Heavy Metal provided Tarry and Van Niekerk with a second successive win in the race, following Pomodoro's victory in 2012. An ecstatic Tarry praised S'Manga Khumalo after the race, describing the rider as "very cool." He also paid tribute to Van Niekerk, who is one of the yard's leading owners.
Khumalo has had a sensational year, winning three of South Africa's biggest races in 2012-2013. His first major win came in the Sansui Summer Cup (SAf-I), and he followed this up with a pair of major wins on Heavy Metal. Khumalo was humble following his big race success, and paid thanks to his trainer for keeping him on the winner.
Heavy Metal's win ensured his sire will win his first South African stallion title this year. Silvano, who recently set a new stakes record for a locally based sire, has enjoyed a superb season in 2012-2013, with his progeny among five individual grade I winners this season.
Heavy Metal's dam, Percussion, is a winning half-sister to the stakes winner Skin Tight, who also produced a grade I winner on July day in the form of Golden Slipper queen For The Lads.
Tarry enjoyed a magnificent day with his charges winning three features, and he is currently on top of the South African trainers log by prize money. Should he win the premiership, it would be his first.