Thrills, spills, kills: All part

2012-07-07 00:00

UNDOUBTEDLY the biggest incident associated with the Durban July and still spoken of today was the shooting of race favourite Sea Cottage in 1966.

The event was immortalised in A Newspaper History of South Africa, which recounts the tale as it was written more than 40 years ago in various publications.

Favourite for the race, Sea Cottage was shot in the right flank on Friday,June 10 while returning from a beach workout, by a gunman in a concrete shelter on the bridge crossing the Mgeni River at Blue Lagoon. In a strange twist of irony, the horse’s trainer, the legendary Syd Laird, had said to family and friends on the evening of June 9: “I don’t believe I’ve ever had a certainty for the July like Sea Cottage. The only way they will stop him is to get at him.”

And get at him they did. With three weeks until the race, the horse made a remarkable recovery and it’s worth noting the bullet was never found, despite three X-ray attempts. Sea Cottage started as favourite in the race and ran on gamely for fourth, behind Java Head, another Laird trained winner. Jockey Robbie Sivewright was adamant Sea Cottage could have won were it not for a bump from another horse, Cuff Link, which broke Cottage’s rhythm.

The following year, Sea Cottage dead-heated with Jollify to share race honours, the first dead heat in the history of the race.

As for who pulled the trigger, a Johnny Nel was subsequently arrested, convicted and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, of which three years were suspended.

In 1974, the grey Jamaican Music, favourite on the day, clipped the heels of another horse 150 m into the race. Jockey Tom Rattley was dislodged and the horse romped through the field to cross the line first but with no rider. Riboville was the winner, giving the number 13 its seventh race success.

Although not much was made of Lightning Shot’s surprise win in 1977, it could have turned ugly when it was discovered the saddle girth had come loose in the charge for the line. Jockey Dennis Mustard displayed incredible skill to stay aboard during a sprint for the line with second-placed Bold Monarch breathing down his neck.

Surfing Home crossed the line first in 1994, but was relegated to fifth after interfering with Pad De Quoi. Spacewalk, who finished second, was awarded the race and there was no victory parade for him due to the time taken over the objection.

In 2005, favourite Rabiya broke a leg at the 1600 m mark and was euthanised on the track. This somewhat took the glory off 20-1 outsider Dunford’s win in a surprise result. Last year, Big City Life, winner of the July in 2009, broke a leg as he crossed the line in fifth and was euthanised. Nobody likes to remember the sad and the bad of anything but, as with all major events, it’s part of history. — Witness Reporter.

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