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By Mike Moon

Horse racing correspondent

Oriental Charm’s MR edges up to 125

Will we see copycat Highveld raiders trying to squeeze into the 2025 Durban July?

Three-year-old Oriental Charm had his merit rating raised from 121 to 125 following his victory in the Grade 1 Hollywoodbets Durban July at Greyville on Saturday.

This scanty four-point penalty for winning South Africa’s biggest horse race might puzzle some observers – on a common-sense level – but the smart people who do the sums probably know best.

The relentless galloping of the son of Vercingetorix left the country’s best racehorses floundering in his wake. Yet his new equine celebrity status sees him still rated below others in his age group and well below some of the elders he gave a whupping.

Racing fans are regularly confused by MR reasoning, but shrug and accept it. After all, we have to have a system and, until someone comes up with something better, we go with the flow.

MR calculations

The official handicappers are always steadfast in defence of their MR calculations. Of the 2024 Hollywoodbets Durban July, they said: “Oriental Charm has had his merit rating raised from 121 to 125… The handicappers were unanimous in their view that third-placed Royal Victory made for the most suitable line horse, which leaves him unchanged on a mark of 125. In rating the race this way, fourth-placed Flag Man also runs to his rating, effectively making him a line horse as well and leaving him unchanged on a mark of 126.”

Royal Victory (57kg) and Flag Man (55.5kg) are also three-year olds and carried more weight than the winner due to higher pre-race ratings.

Oriental Charm carried just 53kg and his route into July is a clear example of the brilliant strategy of trainer Brett Crawford – using the rules to gain maximum advantage.

The colt was allocated the minimum weight for his age and gender under the race’s specific rules. This meant he was very favourably weighted in the context of the race – as was his stablemate Winchester Mansion when he won the July in 2023.

Upcountry training

Indeed, Crawford and his son James, who runs the stable’s Highveld satellite yard, prepared the two champions in an identical series of game-changing strikes on the KwaZulu-Natal winter season.

Both Oriental Charm and Winchester Mansion were given long rests after their Cape summer campaigns and shipped to the Highveld with the July top of mind. Tuned-up upcountry and trucked down to the coast for lightning raids, both were runners-up in the WSB 1900 and then won the 1800m Cup Trial.

Experienced pundits said three long journeys east in the space of two months could never work in winning the July. Winchester Mansion proved them wrong. Oriental Charm, too.

A favourite phrase used in describing this training (and nominations) feat is “under the radar” – getting into the big race with a minimum impost.

Racing operator Gold Circle tweaked the weighting rules after 2023. One wonders if they’ll tinker again.

Whatever they do, there’s likely to be a relatively unexposed, lightly weighted Crawford runner squeaking into the contest.

And there might be copycats.

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