It’s sink or swim for the Naval Guard in the Jubilee

There will be plenty of interest in Naval Guard’s performance in the Jubilee Handicap at Turffontein on Sunday.

The Paul Peter-trained gelding is one of 17 entrants to Hollywoodbets Durban in July showing up this weekend in a final bid to polish their credentials and secure a starting spot in the country’s premier horse race.

The particular focus on the Naval Guard is because someone bet a big coin on him to win July – despite the fact he has yet to make the ‘probable runners’ log and that his merit rating suggests he has little chance of making the champ final.

July sponsor Hollywoodbets opened its first big race betting market with Naval Guard at 100-1. The lightly raced four-year-old went on to achieve an impressive hat-trick of victories at Turffontein and looked like one of the most improved horses in the country. The money went down.

Hollywoodbets were forced to cut the odds to 20-1. With ante-post bets before the final stage of the field not subject to refund, this drop in play indicated a remarkable degree of confidence. Or bravado. Or nonsense.

The Grade 3 Jubilee Handicap, 1800m was once a ‘golden ticket’ race for the month of July but is no longer so even if the Naval Guard wins on Sunday it might not crack the July nod . His current MR is 90, while the log low of the current 20 most likely runners is 116.

It would take a somewhat special victory to turn the collective heads of the selection jury. But the panel is known to have a soft spot for fit horses in their final deliberations – and the Jubilee was once a favorite warm-up race for the month of July.

Three other July prospects, Johan Janse van Vuuren’s Puerta Manzano and Second Base and Sean Tarry’s Zillzaal are also up for the Jubilee. All are among the newspaper’s top 20, although Zillzaal is 20e and second base at 17e might seem a bit precarious if whipped by the Naval Guard.

The Grade 1, 1600m Gold Challenge raced in Greyville on Saturday is, in fact, the final golden ticket event of July and has six entries for the big one.

Justin Snaith’s two-time Queen’s Plate winner Jet Dark is a 16-10 favorite for the Challenge – and 14-1 for July. The team’s other July contender with a last chance to qualify via the Challenge is Crown Towers, at 20-1 and 125-1.

Linebacker, Russian Rock, Al Muthana and Bingwa make up the Challenge’s July contingent.

Six other prospects line up in the Grade 3 Cup try on the Greyville card, with Snaith’s Warrior (28-10) and Candice Bass-Robinson’s Firealley (5-1) the most wanted to advance their claims . Also part of Native Tongue are Snaith and Glen Kotzen’s trio of Never Ending Rain, Chollima and Crimson King.

Bass-Robinson’s clever filly, Marina (18e on the July log and 28-1 on the books) contests the Grade 2 Tibouchina stakes on the Greyville card and will have to get the better of stablemate Zarina (not yet in July). They are cited at 9-2 and 28-10 respectively.

It’s a last chance saloon weekend.