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The race that stops A N AT I O N

The Vodacom Durban July racemeeting is unique in that it is a 12 race meeting starting in day light and ending under lights


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the Vodacom Durban July is the greatest horse racing event on the Continent. More than that, it’s also south African party fun time. As the annual outbreak of ‘July Fever’ starts to take hold, Ken tweddell, Event Marketing Manager of Gold Circle, the sport’s controlling body in KwaZulu-Natal, talks about the race of the Year. By Colin Chinery.

s July opens it’s cold in Johannesburg, wet in the Cape, and at Port Elizabeth night temperatures are down to 8c. But out in KwaZulu-Natal the winter days are sunny and warm, little wind or rain, and from across the peaks and plateaus, South Africans in their tens of thousands make for the golden beaches, sandy coves and warm Indian Ocean waters of KZN’s coastline. For many the lure is a pear-shaped green space in the Durban suburb of Greyville. This is the Greyville Racecourse, one of the most picturesque in the world and on the first Saturday of every July, the Ascot of Africa, focus of a nation en fete; great racing, high – and depending on your taste tab-pushing fashion, fine cuisine, champagne, and elegance. And partying through the night. The Durban July, premier race for thoroughbreds, was first held in 1897 with only seven horses, and today it’s the highlight of the country’s horse racing calendar. But with the seasonal presence of African horse sickness combined with prize money too low in international terms to attract overseas stables, it’s a strictly South African affair with the notable exception of imported horses resident in South Africa. Indeed, the 2011 winner, Igugu, is an Australian bred filly owned by an Arab Sheikh. The Sport of Kings is hugely popular in South Africa, reaching back to 1797, with the first recorded race club meeting five years later in 1802. Three major races are preeminent; Johannesburg hosts The Summer Cup, Cape Town the J & B


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Met, and then in Durban the greatest of all, the 2.2 km Vodacom Durban July - the most talked about and best-attended horse racing gathering with R5,5 million at stake. “The country’s best horses will be here. It’s the pinnacle of racing success in South Africa and I’d describe Durban July Day as a sporting day coupled with socialising in the extreme,” says Ken Tweddell, Event Marketing Manager of Gold Circle, the sport’s controlling body in KwaZulu-Natal and a key figure in the Durban July. But the Ascot of Africa is more than great racing, socialising, and cool and crazy fashions. It’s also South Africa’s equivalent of Australia’s Melbourne Cup – ‘the race that stops a nation’ - the day when South Africans tele-view, and time-out for a once-a-year flutter, ‘July Day at home’, and all-round get-together. Mark Twain said of a visit to the Melbourne Cup in 1895, “Nowhere in the world have I

Vodacom Durban July day is where all the best horses on the African continent meet in an action packed day of thrilling racing

The famous “pear shaped” Greyville Racecourse is situated in the centre of Durban, KwaZulu-Natal on the coast of the warm Indian Ocean 4

encountered a festival of people that has such a magnificent appeal to the whole nation. The Cup astonishes me.” Twain would have enjoyed the Durban July extravaganza. “It’s a huge event, all very festive and as with the Melbourne Cup, brings the nation to a standstill,” says Tweddell. And like a store on a busy main street corner, location is everything. “The Vodacom Durban July is perfectly situated to attract huge crowds. We are on the East coast of South Africa in a sub-tropical area, very good winter weather, and with lots of activity in Durban at that time of the year. The whole coast of this Province is beautiful, with great and safe swimming conditions and inland there are numerous game reserves with Durban their launch pad. So people come to Durban to holiday.” And on July 7th 55,000 of them will be at Greyville while across South

Africa hundreds of millions of Rands will be placed on bets from the big ticket to loose change. “People in this Province love betting and many South Africans have telephone betting accounts. But for the average South African it’s probably the one time they’ll take a bet – with many small clubs running their own books.” It is not only the field that is fast out of the gate. Each year planning for the next Durban July begins shortly after the close of the last. ”This year we are doing a lot to improve first impressions when people arrive at Greyville course, so that they know they have come to a very very special event. We are making security more visible – very important at a race meeting when people are dealing with money.”

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This is Tweddell’s 19th Durban July, and with traffic congestion and neighbourhood frustrations major issues in a residential suburb, offsite parking and a bus park and ride scheme are being planned. “We can’t attract any more people to the event since we have reached the legal ceiling in terms of numbers. Now it’s a matter of making the Durban July even better.” The 12 card race day starts at 11.35 am, but what follows is a warm up for 4.20 pm when the starting stalls crash open for the Vodacom Durban July. Other races on this day range from the 1.4km Golden Horseshoe to the 3km Gold Vase, with the last four events held under floodlights, ending around 8pm. Greyville is a beautiful track situated about one kilometre from the beachfront. It surrounds the Royal Durban Golf Course with its lakes and swathes of indigenous flora. And for Vodacom Durban July Day it mushrooms an outcrop of marquees and more than 400 picnic spots. “A magnificent site,” says Tweddell. “We are more restricted for space than Melbourne which has a vast area in front of the grandstand whereas ours is very close to the track.” It is also unconventional in layout, a right hander, with the July starting stalls at the 2200m mark on the back straight which disappears behind the Drill Hall at the 1600m mark. Here the horses move into a long sweeping bend that turns sharply right into the short straight with 500m to go. Gold Circle, is part of a multifaceted and integrated industry, 6

The big hearted filly Ipi Tombi (translated means “where is the girl?”) won the Vodacom Durban July in 2002 with jockey Kevin Shea. In 2003 she travelled to Dubai where she outperformed all rivals earning her the 2003 Dubai Horse of the Year honours she is currently a brood mare in America

organising thoroughbred horseracing events throughout KwaZulu-Natal. Its operating assets include racecourses in Pietermaritzburg as well as Durban. Gold Circle owns world-class thoroughbred training centres as well as a network of 44 company-owned betting outlets and 84 independently-owned outlets. And with an annual turnover in excess of R1.5 billion, Gold Circle is a key player in the national horseracing industry. For owners, trainers, breeders, jockeys and grooms, the Durban July is the prize most sought, and for Tweddell, the reputation and quality of the Durban July thoroughbreds and of South African racehorses in general is paramount. “The Vodacom Durban July is a launch pad for the international success of South African horses.”

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2012 Vodacom Durban July champion Igugu, jockey Anthony Delpech, trained by internationally renowned Mike de Kock and owned by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum & Mr & Mrs A J Macdonald South Africa is known for its design talent and the Vodacom Durban July encourages not only established designers but up and coming young designers to show off their creations

Many winners have moved on to success abroad, notably in Dubai - where the World Cup is the richest and most renowned horse race in the world with a prize purse of $10,000,000. For years Michael Roberts, eleven times Champion Jockey of South Africa and 1992 Champion Jockey of Britain, missed out on a Durban July winner. “When he eventually won he regarded this as the pinnacle of his career – and he’s won some great races.” Synonymous with the Vodacom Durban July is the matchless fashion programme; stylish, inspirational, fun and zany. It opens months ahead of Big Race Day drawing enthusiastic designers from every corner of the country, identifying and rewarding emerging talent and reaching its climax with a series of stunning shows.

Fashion, a feature since inception, is now actively promoted. And away from Durban many South African homes will dress up and stage fashion-themed parties, while for fashionistas at Greyville the Big Day means break-loose, eye-popping, sometimes edgy outfits. And each year fashion on Durban July Day takes a distinctive fashion note. For 2012 the theme - developed out of last year’s COP17 climate change conference in Durban - is ‘A Material World?’ “It questions us as humans and what we are doing on this Earth. We are saying this is a material world but this is what we should be doing!” Meantime millions of South Africans know what they will be doing on July 7th. “Wherever you go on raceday its fun,” says Tweddell. “It’s a spectacular day!” END


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