What the talking horses said
Trainers often talk about horses "telling" them when they're ready to win.
This unleashes old jokes about talking horses. Like the one about the racehorse that approaches the bookmaker and says: "R50 on me to win the next race." The bookmaker exclaims: "I don't believe it!" The horse: "What, that I can talk?" Bookie: "No, you haven't got a hope in the next."
When horses talk to trainers, it's more in the realm of horse whispering. The best trainers, the ilk of yesteryear's Syd Garrett and Fred Rickaby, have empathy with their charges and an instinctive feel about a horse being ready.
Of course, there are physical signs of a horse being fit. His muscles become defined, his tummy lifts, the coat shines and he displays "dapples", a variegated colouring lovely to behold.
But in a famous contest such as next Saturday's Durban July, it ain't easy to pick one runner over another on looks. Each is already an outstanding specimen and has been conditioned to a peak.
It's only the trainers who truly know how well their horses are.
Even then, the July is such a big deal some of them strain too hard to hear what the nag is saying and end up "hearing voices" - which might well be talking bollocks.
For those of us who must rely on our eyes, rather than intuitive ears, the July public gallops, 10 days before the race, broadcast live on Tellytrack, are of considerable value. Stables might not want to give away much to the opposition, and horses are at different stages of preparation and need different types of exercise - hard-ridden or easy-striding - but all galloping horses show things about themselves.
Winners of the past few Julys have been revealed right here in my "short list" of contenders immediately after the gallops. (That's probably jinxed it this year.)
After yesterday's early-morning performances at Greyville, it is obvious favourite Jackson is "a very big runner", as the experts put it. He is indeed a massive colt, has a big stride and looks muscled-up. Importantly, he looked very interested in his surroundings yesterday - as 2011 champ Igugu did last year.
However, two pesky factors prevent this being a "one-horse race": Jackson carries a hefty weight for a three-year-old and has a wide draw at 16.
The gallops disappointment for me was Solo Traveller, which I once quietly fancied. On the other hand, the revelation was Sage Throne, a horse few pundits had much considered. He looked alert, confident and full of running.
A post-gallops short list of eight: Jackson (18/10), Ilha Bela (15/2), English Garden (10/1), Chesalon (15/1), Gold Onyx (16/1), Pierre Jourdan (16/1), Sage Throne (25/1), Eton Square (33/1).
Saftote will pay out on the first six placings in the July. Tote betting on the race opened on the Highveld yesterday and opens in KwaZulu-Natal on Monday. All To Come bets are available into the July from other races around the country in the week prior.