Most days I get to write about British horse racing and I can’t exactly complain, but every now and again I am let off the leash just a little and get to put together what they call a “colour piece” which is all about the day and not just the winners and losers.
I have said similar before, but if you ever fancy something a little different when travelling to the Dubai World Cup, Breeders Cup, Arc, and any more of the usual suspects then why not at least consider the Durban July in South Africa? Yes I am there right now, and Yes I do try to make it every year, but it is a party like no other with some high-class racing thrown in for good measure. I love Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood, and I am a huge fan of the Newmarket July course, but Greyville is different gravy. The cost of living here is far cheaper than back home in the UK, and it only costs about £2 to get in to the races (obviously the VIP areas come separately), and you can get some decent snacks (hotdogs, burgers, bacon rolls, curry, kebabs, and so on for £2 to £4 a time, which leaves the UK food outlets hanging their heads in shame. A beer is about £1, a G&T £2, and to be honest I struggled to be on best behaviour at those prices and wait until I had finished my work before partaking.
The middle of the course is basically part of the Royal Durban Golf Course but there is no putting on race day at the course it taken over by a sea of hospitality tents, a live music venue, and the ever-popular fashion show that has to be seen to be believed. Those who know me will be quite aware I am in no position to talk about anything to do with fashion, but even I can see the effort that so any people have put in to their outfits (and how much money), though it is the colour that has to be seen to be believed. Nothing is deemed too bright, too outrageous, too short, too long, too loose, or too tight here though I did take issue with some of the models commenting that it was a huge fashion show with a bit of racing in the background – cough cough, it’s the other way around.
Having sneaked a free glass of bubbly or two passing the hospitality suites (it would be rude not to partake), I grabbed a Shiwarma (like a posh kebab) and moved back under the course to the racing side to enjoy the rest of the day. Justin Snaith is a bit of a hero in the South African racing scene and started the day with a bang winning the opener, but it was on the polytrack and no way am I boring you with each and every race when you don’t know the horses, jockeys, trainers or owners. What I will add is that racing here is NOT third World, they take it very seriously, have one of the most efficient breeding operations imaginable and are trying again to get the export protocols changed to allow them to race on level terms around the World to see just how good their horses really are.
I add that paragraph as I was really looking forward to the Group One Durban Golden Horseshoe over 1400 metres (seven furlongs ish) for two-year-old colts and geldings, and perhaps one of these will be stepping overseas to try their luck next season. Mike de Kock stepped up to the plate for a stable one-two as did owner Hamdan Al Maktoum as Barahin saw off my bet Soqrat by a nose with over three lengths back to the third placed Sulka. It looked a decent enough race to these eyes and the first two are clearly pretty decent and worth watching in South Africa and possibly elsewhere in the long term.
Amazingly the afternoon was now rushing by, and the next race was the big one – eighteen runners over a 2200 metres trip (eleven furlongs or so) with a turn in to an eighteen-metre wide straight that seems to have “trouble” written all over it as a new name will be written in to the history books of the Durban July. Yes, it is a handicap, and I have been arguing with my Australian colleagues that handicaps cannot be Grade Ones (to no avail), but it will be one hell of a race with more hard luck stories than not in this field where my Rand are already down on Justin Snaith’s Do It Again – so there goes any chance he might have had. After lapping up the last of the sunshine (its winter here which confuses me totally), I made the most of my paddock pass to watch the runners parade pre-race after skipping the pre-race jockey presentation. I’m not going to pretend I can spot the winner in the paddock, and no great shock to find they all looked an absolute picture ahead of such a prestigious contest, but it still gave me the excuse to drink in the surroundings and pinch myself for being so lucky. On to the race itself and I expected a hell-for-leather pace from the off but it started at a crawl which seemed likely to cause a pile up that saw favourite African Night Sky feeling forced to take it up and make the last half mile or more to come home in front but I am delighted to say it wasn’t to be as my tip Do It Again came home in front under Anton Marcus from Made To Conquer and Elusive Sky for a Snaith one-two-three-five in a season he will never forget. Add the fact that jockey Anton Marcus was ridi9ng his fifth Durban July winner (a record – everyone else has been stuck on four), and I witnessed South African racing history being made
Despite five more races only one had the potential to be of International importance as the Grade One Garden Province Stakes saw Snowdance forced to race over a mile yet again with so few opportunities for the daughter of Captain Al over six furlongs, which is apparently her ideal trip. She is the one trainer Justin Snaith suggested would be up to competing abroad if and when their horses get to travel, and I for one would love to see that after she took it up a furlong out before getting mowed down close home to be outstayed by Redberry Lane under the excellent Lyle Hewitson. I do feel sympathetic toward the runner-up’s connections who must be distraught at the lack of top class sprint races at home, but they may yet be to our benefit with a trip to Royal Ascot a possibility if the outdated quarantine rules are finally relaxed.
Deciding I am not well enough equipped to take part in the thirteenth race (look it up if you dare), I settled down to a drink and a bite to eat before trying desperately to think of a way to summarise the Durban July. It is loud and proud, colour to the extremes, all senses attacked with food smells as enticing as anywhere and top class competitive racing. Nothing to dislike and plenty to love, and in a Country that makes you so welcome you feel at home in a matter of hours. See you there next year – I hope.
Sean Trivass was a guest of Gold Circle on arrival in South Africa but was not paid in any way for this article and financed his own way there.