No fillies in the HDJ field but Venniker to fly ladies’ flag

Rachel Venniker, at the Gallops on June 26 riding her horse Without Question as she will be the first female jockey in the Durban July field on Saturday. | Archives

Rachel Venniker, at the Gallops on June 26 riding her horse Without Question as she will be the first female jockey in the Durban July field on Saturday. | Archives

Published Jul 4, 2024


THERE are no fillies in this year’s Hollywoodbets Durban July (HDJ) field, but Rachel Venniker, who will become the first female jockey to ride in the HDJ, will represent the fairer sex in Africa’s greatest horseracing event on Saturday.

Venniker will be riding the bay gelding Without Question, trained by Justin Snaith and owned by Nick Jonsson, who is also Venniker’s sponsor. Without Question has three wins and five placings in 19 starts.

One of the five placings was third place at the World Sports Betting Cape Town Metropolitan with Venniker in the saddle. Without Question is sired by the stallion The United States out of the dam Siena’s Star. She rides for the Michael Roberts stable.

Venniker is no stranger to the world of ‘firsts’ in horse racing, just like her famous namesake in British racing, Rachael Blackmore. In 2021, she became the first female jockey to win the Grand National in the 182-year history of the race.

In February this year, Venniker recorded a historical in the desert Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. She won Saudi Arabia’s US$400,000 (R7,63m) Invest International Jockeys Challenge Stakes over 2100m on the King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Saudi Arabia. It was the first by a South African female rider and the race included seven of the world’s best male jockeys.

It was her first trip abroad to any country and her first big race win as a fully-fledged jockey. She had only completed her apprenticeship a few weeks earlier.

Saturday’s Durban July ‘first’ could have come earlier in her career. She was given a ride in the 2022 showpiece but suffered an injury a week before the race. Her ride Red Saxon was given to jock Serino Moodley.

Last year, Venniker’s July horse, the Erico Verdonese-trained Jimmy Don was the second reserve and since there was no scratching, she did make the final field.

This time Venniker will be in the final field which includes 18 of the cream of the country’s middle-distance horses that will line up over 2200m at Hollywoodbets Greyville. the star-studded line-up field will headed by last year’s winner Winchester Mansion and runner-up See It Again.

A product of the SA Jockey Academy, the 22-year-old Venniker on board Without Question, will jump from gate three. Last year was arguably Justin Snaith’s best shot at Durban July glory in 2023. This year the gelding is unlikely to be near the top of the boards and by midweek the odds on Without Question were around 25-1.

While Venniker will fly the flag for ladies among the jockeys, the Turfontein-based Robyn Klaasen will be the lone female trainer in the 2026 Durban July field.

There is no possibility of a female trainer ‘first’ for Klaasen on Saturday because Capetonian Candice Bass-Robinson made history in 2017 when she became the first female trainer to win South Africa’s biggest race when Marinaresco took out the Grade One showpiece event.

The 17-1 chance carried the top weight but got home in the final stride under the guidance of jockey Bernard Fayd’herbe.