Picture: 123RF/ MELORYS
Picture: 123RF/ MELORYS

It would be no surprise if, in his dreams, veteran trainer Tyrone Zackey sees his horse Smanjemanje getting the better of a neck-and-neck finish with Pomodoro in the 2012 Vodacom Durban July.    

The next phase of the dream would be hugs and kisses in the winner’s enclosure. Zackey is first and foremost a family man. His first hug would have been reserved for his daughter Nadine.

Upon awakening, reality would set in for the Turffontein conditioner now in his early 70s. As the record books show, Pomodoro got the verdict that year to give owner Chris van Niekerk the first of back-to-back July wins.

It is somewhat ironic that Pomodoro was ridden by Piere Strydom who, over the years, has ridden many winners for the Zackey stable.

Now, nine years later and almost out of the blue, Zackey can once again dream of July glory with his four-year-old, Johnny Hero.

The son of Gimmethegreenlight — also the sire of July favourite Got The Greenlight — won Sunday’s grade 3 Jubilee Handicap at Turffontein and earned himself a “preferential ticket” from Gold Circle for the big race on July 3.

As Zackey was ill and unable to attend Sunday’s meeting, Johnny Hero’s July participation could not be confirmed. But the trainer has never been one to duck a challenge — proof of this is sending Glider Pilot to contest the 2017 Daily News and Pennington Sands for a CTS race in the Cape.

On home ground, one of Zackey’s biggest successes came with Judicial, winner of the 2014 Victory Moon Stakes. The horse was bred by Scott Bros, and Robin Stud’s Nottingham Road operation has provided many of the stable’s winners.

In a 2014 interview, the Sporting Post commented: “One can only imagine what the affable and likable horseman could have achieved were he given more opportunities.”

That assessment is spot on, particularly the description of Zackey being affable and likable. In my 49 years as a racing scribe, only Geoff Woodruff falls into the same category as someone who is as easy to interview.

It will come as a surprise to many that Zackey — after about 30 years as a breeder and owner — only took out his licence in 2000.

He quickly made his mark in the next two decades despite stressing that: “It’s not an easy game training slow horses. It’s not difficult to train good horses, but when you have ordinary horses you find yourself trying tongue-ties, blinkers, different bits, different jockeys and different work routines.”

On the subject of jockeys, the intriguing question is who will partner Johnny Hero if he makes the final July field?

As he won on the gelding on Sunday, Kabelo Matsunyane must be on the shortlist despite having just become a fully fledged jockey. It would be a wonderful moment for a youngster who rode his first winner in June 2018.

Then, with Running Brave (10th in the July log) reported to be not striding out in Sunday’s race, it could leave Greg Cheyne without a ride and he has tonnes of big race experience. Equally, there is now a question mark over ExpressfromtheUS (beaten six lengths), but he did concede 9.5kg to Johnny Hero.

ExpressfromtheUS was ridden by Marco van Rensburg, who has ridden the Zackey inmate four times in 2021 and won on him in April.

Before the 2018 Premier’s Champions Challenge when Glider Pilot was taking on Legal Eagle, Zackey was asked whether he thought it worthwhile taking on Sean Tarry’s champion Legal Eagle. His response: “If we don’t have a ticket, we don’t have a hope of glory.”

The same maxim will apply to Johnny Hero in the July. Never mind that the form book says the four-year-old has little hope of beating the likes of Got The Greenlight, Linebacker and Rainbow Bridge.

Zackey will simply point out that pundits said the same thing about Smanjemanje in 2012.

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