South African racing review – well worth the read after three profitable selections!

As a racing journalist of some years experience it takes something out of the ordinary to make me sit up and take notice (sorry, but Wolverhampton on a rainy Wednesday afternoon just doesn’t do it for me), with even Royal Ascot a bit “samo samo” these days.

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Colourful outfits were the order of the day

As mentioned in a previous article I am currently in South Africa typing this live while attending the Vodacom Durban July meeting – and what a racing party it is, pretty much from dawn to dusk. A sell out 50,000 crowd year after year is statistical testament to the popularity of the day but if I wasn’t here I would not believe the colour  -it seriously makes Glorious Goodwood look like an old sepia photograph – and I love the Sussex track so no insult intended. I know it doesn’t help any of us to find a winner but the flowers, the fashions, the sheer effort put in by both the track staff and the racegoers is something I am seriously struggling to even attempt to describe.  Admittedly a prize driven fashion show to start the day would have helped but everyone (and I mean everyone except me) put in an amazing amount of effort to look good and the milliners and fashion houses of South Africa must have reaped the benefits in the months before raceday. Bright colours are a lot more evident here than I would expect back in the UK (and no umbrellas either!), and although I am no Gok Wan, even I can appreciate the efforts most if not all racegoers have gone to for one day out. (see photos – unbelievable stuff).

Getting back to my world, as a punter the entry fee is impressive (about £12 but remember, this is the biggest race day on the continent!), but as is my habit, off I went to search out other prices, namely drink and food – what can you get, is it better value – or will I get turned over like we all do back home? Plenty of choice maybe makes for better competition and I am being sorely tempted by both the lamb wrap (55 Rand or about £3.80) or to save my money for betting and simply have the one foot hotdog for 15 Rand  – or less than a quid! Beers start at 16 Rand (or a £1 again), and soft drinks 11 Rand (about 63p), so maybe they could run the food and drink concessions at Newmarket et al for us all – I am pretty certain the crowds would be up dramatically if they did!

As for the racing, twelve races means value in some peoples eyes (it felt like overkill to me), but as they nigh on ignore the first two handicaps as they get stuck in to socializing, eating, and drinking, its not as bad as it sounds. As with many tracks, the inner sanctum becomes a tented village for raceday which is where most of the noise is coming from (heavy bass music mainly), but they also fence off a large part of the main track for private parties – a good little earner I suspect but they wouldn’t let me in to find out!

One thing that never changes is a punters mentality, and with four well-backed horses taking the first four races everyone was swinging in to party mood, which only made for an even better atmosphere if that was possible. Singing and dancing in the payout queues was “de rigeur”, but as most are tote equivalent there were even smiles at the windows and no scowling bookies that I saw. Race five saw the start of the Grade One contests (well done Oddschecker for pricing them up in the UK, and shame on you Racing Post for not listing the cards), and the unbeaten Alboran Sea was soon to be weighed down with some of my money. Said to be a bit special by all my South African racing friends she was never going to make my fortune at a short price and the Trivass curse struck again as she was beaten by outsider Bilateral at odds of 50/1 – nice to know the local scribes know about as little as I do!

The arrival of South African President Jacob Zuma brought cheers from most of the crowd, and at least an elected politician was seen in attendance at an event popular with his voters, maybe we could do with that a bit more in Britain though to be fair, I doubt any of them would get quite such a warm welcome from a crowd who have been drinking since their arrival, and maybe discretion is the better part of valour there?

Now down financially, I had to continue betting to get the losses back, and Harry’s Son was next up to try and get me out of trouble. Having heard his trainer’s optimism on the Thursday morning I could hardly resist, and at UK odds around the 8/1 mark I had to be hopeful. Easy to spot in white with green sleeves and an orange Maltese cross, he was improving race on race and had won at the fourth attempt last time out – could he break the hoodoo or would he be consigned to the losers’ list I wonder? I think you can already guess the answer as he was a well beaten in third but that was a place (hoorah), and my best result of the day so far!

On now to the Vodacom Durban July – raced over 2200 metres and with 3,500,000 Rand in total prize money – well worth winning by anyone’s standards. No obvious favourite stood out pre race and they were betting 4/1 the field shortly before the off bu