Tyrone Zackey has another Vodacom Durban July ticket
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The list of connections whose names would be on the Vodacom Durban July victory roll had it not been for bad luck in running must be a long one and among them are trainer Tyrone Zackey and his daughter and son-in-law Nadine and Kevin Backos, a trio who have a ticket this year with the race's joint biggest outsider Johnny Hero.
The Zackey-trained 55/1 shot Smanjemanje, owned by the Backos's in partnership with George Barker, was bumped twice at crucial stages in the straight by the eventual third-placed Chesalon in 2012 while storming home under young apprentice Grant van Niekerk to be beaten just a short-head by Pomodoro.
Zackey recalled, "The stipes told me they would have reversed the placings if Chesalon had finished in front of us."
The memory of such narrow misses never fades.
In fact Paddy Wynne, who rode Jamaican Rumba to July victory in 1982, spoke last week of how he sometimes still today suddenly sits bolt upright at night thinking of the incident in the straight in 1989 that robbed him of a second July win on Tropicante.
Zackey continued, "Every year on July day I find myself wishing I had another horse as good as Smanjemanje to give us another chance."
He admitted, "I don't know if Johnny Hero is the same quality as Smanjemanje, but he always tries and is progressing, he gets better everytime. It is a very talented field this year, but we do have a ticket. I bought a place in Umhlanga many years ago so we stay there and we always have a good time. Win, lose or draw, we are happy. I love horses and my family loves horses."
Zackey was given a budget by John Maroun to look for a horse at the National Yearling Sales in 2018 and after he had been outbid for the the first two on his list he picked up Gimmethegreenlight colt Johnny Hero for R130,000.
"John came over to me and said he liked this one, he was a reasonable price, and he liked the name too. Not only is his name John but his father was also named John and was nicknamed 'Johnny Bix'. So he took over immediately and paid for the horse at the sale and later Kevin and Nadine took a share."
GH Normand is also a shareholder.
Zackey added, "Not one of the owners ever asked me when he would be ready to run."
The owners left it to Tyrone knowing what a fine trainer he is, a conditioner who when given a good horse will invariably take it to the top.
Zackey said, "I don't look at the breeding at Sales I just look at the horse and when I like the conformation that is when I buy."
He continued, "So the owners allowed Johnny Hero time to grow and he kept growing. I then gave him a run (in late May of his two-year-old year) over 1400m at the Vaal and he was left about eight lengths and came flying for fourth. I then knew we had a nice horse."
His opinion was confirmed when he won over 1400m next time out. Johnny Hero won one more race as a juvenile and was given a 99 merit rating.
He added one more win as a three-year-old, ending that season rated 93.
However, one day he began flipping over at home when the saddle was put on and it was discovered he had a growth in his whither.
This was removed but the surgery put him out for seven months.
Zackey said, "I took my time with him. He improved and improved and eventually none of my other horses could work with him."
The now four-year-old gelding duly came back better than ever and since his return on February 23 this year has rattled off three wins and only missed the frame once in eight starts.
This culminated in a fine win in the Grade 3 Jubilee Handicap over 1800m at Turffontein Standside, a traditional July pointer, which prompted the connections to supplement him for the big race.
Zackey recalled, "On the day of the Jubilee there was a lack of jockeys because of the postponed Scottville meeting and when I saw Kabelo (Matsunyane) was available I grabbed him. He had ridden him three times before and the horse runs for him. Kabelo has his head screwed on the right way. He takes instructions and rides to instructions. I told him if he won the Jubilee he had the July ride."
Matsunyane thus has his first ride in the July.
Zackey continued, "But the July is very hard, nobody gives an inch. In July's jockeys stay where they are and if they have you locked up they will keep you there. But we have draw two so it is all up to luck in running and we will have a chance to run a place at least."
Zackey has been impressed with a number of the VDJ contenders and said, "Got The Greenlight is a beautiful horse, he has beaten us before, and I have been watching him at track. He has developed into a big and strong colt. Linebacker is lovely and I couldn't believe how green around the turn Kommetdieding was when I watched him running at Greyville."
Zackey was pleased with Johnny Hero's July gallop and concluded,
"He is well in himself I don't think I can have him any better so I will just keep him idling until the race."