If you go racing abroad just once, this is the place!

Contrary to popular belief and as I have mentioned a zillion times, that is a whole wide world of hose racing outsider of the United Kingdom, and although we are the centre of our own little Universe, others don’t see it quite the same way. Being the lucky scribe that I am, as you may have realised I am here in South Africa for the famous Durban July and it is not like anything you can even imagine for a racecourse.

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The crowd know how to have a good time in Durban!

First things first and I like their idea of park and ride for starters – 90 Rand a car (or about £5) allows you to leave your vehicle in a secure zone and catch a bus to the track – can you even imagine how much easier and quicker it would be at Cheltenham, Royal Ascot, Epsom, Goodwood and so on if they all did the same? As you can imagine things are not quite the same here, and it is another Continent I agree but I promise you that there is not a racegoer on the planet who would not lap up the party atmosphere. I am no Gok Wan but even I can appreciate the efforts people went to with regard to dressing up, though unlike England it was not obligatory, and everything was acceptable from jeans and a t-shirt to full length cocktail dresses. Less than £10 to get in as well, the place was packed with about 60,000 racegoers but I have it on good authority there was a waiting list for tickets and negotiations are ongoing to allow 100,000 punters in the very near future. Unlike the UK it would be about right to say there was an equal mix of men and women, old and young, and black and white as well which makes for an unbelievable feel to the day, and if I could only bottle the atmosphere, I would be a very rich man. As is my terrible habit I like to compare International racing with our own and away from the turf we rarely come out on top. Food stalls are plentiful and varied – curries burgers, hot dogs, kebab wraps, and so on, but all come in at less than £3 (can you imagine that at Epsom?), with drinks flowing freely and at sensible prices too (but without the rowdy problems we sometimes have), and all I can really say is that our product off track is made to look pretty stupid.

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The view from the Grandstand – an amazing place

On to the racing itself and I can’t say the quality is up to our standards because it isn’t but it is intriguing and more importantly competitive. A thirteen race card seems a bit heavy going to those of us used to six or seven contests maximum, though the locals seem better equipped or have more stamina than me as the drinks keep on flowing. An internal polytrack course saves the turf for the better races, and as I struggle with the form I was happy to let the lower class races go on without being financially involved which I suspect was a good call. Waiting patiently for the big race, I can tell you that they know how to put on a show, which started with the introduction of the jockeys to the delight of the crowd who filled up just about every square inch of viewing room to cheer their heroes (or ignore them in some cases). Heading off to the start, the betting booths were twenty deep as the bets piled on to see Legal Eagle sent off favourite, but sadly he failed to get involved back in fifth but still one place ahead of my selection French Navy. First past the post was Power King (25/1) who held off Punta Arenas (28/1) by half a length at the line, though life in horse racing is never quite that simple and the winning connections had to wait for what must have felt like for ever after a stewards enquiry. In my opinion (and apparently I am wrong), the winner went sideways and gave the runner up an almighty bump hence the Stewards, but winning jockey Stuart Randolph was adamant that he had kept straight and it was the other horse who moved across – and I don’t know enough to argue. Bottom line is the race was won by the 25/1 shot who saw off a 28/1 shot – with 25/1 chance Tellina back in third which must have paid on hell of a tricast dividend (not available as I write), if anyone won it of course?

Winding up the afternoon we had races eight to twelve to run through before the dreaded race thirteen. For those who haven’t heard of it, race thirteen sees a lot of rather worse for wear locals (and tourists I suppose) run a furlong or so in front of the grandstand, stark naked though. As you would expect it is mainly if not exclusively men so not a lot of interest to me personally, and despite numerous requests I declined to join in on the grounds that I wanted to avoid the nickname of “tiny” for the rest of my days thank you very much.

To conclude, if you have a bucket list and love your racing you simply have to include a trip to the Durban July – the locals are friendly, the prices ridiculous, the racing competitive, and the atmosphere electric, and once you pay your air fare its cheaper than living at home – and I hope to see you there next year?

Sean Trivass was a guest of Gold Circle and would like to thank them, Rob Burnet and Liesl King for their help and hospitality for the entire trip.  

 

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