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IF there is one certainty about this year's Vodacom Durban July, it is that the Andre Kirsten-trained Catmandu will not be the most impressive horse in the canter past to the start, but his supporters need not be concerned.
This Highveld horse was squeezed out in one of his first races as a youngster and as a consequence was off the tracks for a year.
Ever since that day he has had the habit of going to the start very scratchily, as if he is striding short.
However, it is a different story in the race itself, at least after the first 200m.
He has the habit of dropping the bit for the first 200m, but once the field has sorted itself out he picks up into a good gallop.
His ability to relax in the running means he can play his trump card late in the race as he possesses a fine turn of foot and a devastating finishing run.
"I was very happy with his draw of eight," said Kirsten.
"He doesn't want to be drawn too well because of his habit of dropping the bit in the first 200m. We want to try and have him midfield this year unlike last year when he was too far back."
Last year he turned for home way back and was 10,2lengths off the lead at the 400m mark. He recorded a 400m to finish time of 22,3seconds, identical to that of Pocket Power's, and finished 4,35lengths back in 12th.
"He flew up but you can't make up that much ground against top horses," said Kirsten. "If he turns for home closer this year then the rest of the field has problems."
In last year's Astrapak 1900, Catmandu turned for home 5,4lengths back and failed by a short head to catch River Jetez, to whom he was giving 4,5kg.
He receives 0,5kg from River Jetez in the July on Saturday, which gives him a shout on paper, although River Jetez, who is the current second favourite, has improved this season.
Catmandu has a merit rating of 102 and carries 51kg, which means that he is officially 2,5kg under sufferance in the big race, while River Jetez is one of only six horses that is in the handicap proper.
Catmandu did his July gallop on the sand last Thursday with E-Fuel.
"His gallop was alright," said Kirsten. "He's not a sand horse and E-Fuel is probably one of the top five sand horses in the country."
His big race jockey, Kevin Derere has been riding Catmandu for the last three months, so will know him well despite having never ridden him in a race.
Kirsten described Catmandu as a calm horse who is easy to work with.
"He is currently going down to the training tracks in the third or fourth string as it's quite cold up here now," he said. "If somebody saw him in the mornings they would never think he is a top horse as he doesn't have a good action. He is a calm sort but gets on to his toes when he enters the parade ring."
Catmandu will be departing for Durban from his Vaal training base today and will be staying at Clairwood.
"I should be able to give him a light canter at Clairwood on Friday," said Kirsten.