The Melbourne Cup-Durban July connection is not much younger than the race billed as South Africa’s best—the July started in 1897, and in 1909 and 1915 the winners Symfrax and The Jay were trained by Hurtle de Mestre, son of Etienne de Mestre, trainer of Archer, winner of the first two Melbourne Cups (1860 and ’61) and of five overall.
A century on, both races are known as their country’s best, albeit they have developed differently and South Africa’s does not stop the nation the way Australia’s does, nor does it have the international reputation of the Melbourne Cup.
The 2200-metre race is, however, the high point of a three-month Champions Season that runs from early May to late July in KwaZulu-Natal. And it is South African racing’s biggest party, as the Melbourne Cup is Australia’s.
The 2012 July at Durban’s city track Greyville earlier this month had its usual full house of 55,000, who partied on-course from mid-morning to near midnight, largely in temporary marquees and big red umbrellas (for sponsor Vodacom) set up on Royal Durban Golf Club’s championship course that is ringed by the pear-shaped 2800-metre track.
Fashions-on-the-field contests ran throughout the afternoon, with more “out there” designs than in the Victoria Racing Club’s Myer contests adding to the colour of an already bright and vibrant day—pinks, reds, yellows, oranges and greens were everywhere as racegoers, male and female, dressed to impress.
Durban July day has even more races than on Melbourne Cup day—12, with the last just on 8pm, to Flemington’s 10—and there is a higher-grade supporting card with three other Grade 1 races, a Grade 2 and a Grade 3.
Greyville races the Sydney (clockwise) way on turf and has a cutaway rail at the entrance to the 500-metre straight, opening up several metres of inside running that allows the field to fan for the run home.
Two outsiders fought a thrilling duel to the post this July and the photo gave the win to 28/1 chance Pomodoro from Smanjemanje, who had omen supporters at 55/1 because he had been a local witch doctor’s tip.
The latest Australian link came with third placetter Chesalon (18/1), ridden by a South African veteran we know well—Jeff Lloyd, who is based in Brisbane as Patinack Farm’s stable rider.
(The full version of this story is in the August edition of Inside Racing magazine, out at the end of July.)
Pomodoro and Piere Strydom (red) win the 2012 Vodacom Durban July from Smanjemanje and Tyrone Zackey (pink), picture Liesl King.