Sunday, 30 November 2008

A day at the races; I love horsepower!

What's the bet that you've never been to watch horseracing? At our Adventure Club evening this past week I asked the assembled group of people - about 40 of them in their mid-20's to upper 40's - whether they'd been to the races. Guess what? Not one put up their hand. Well, I have now been to the races; and I loved it.

The company that I'm now working for, Penquin International, is involved in the hospitality aspect of the Steinhoff Summer Cup, a horseracing event that has taken place annually for one-hundred-and-twenty-one years! It began in the 1880's on a farm named Turffontein, when Joburg was a dusty mining settlement. Penquin's objective is to turn Summer Cup, which had no formal social/hospitality elements, into Joburg's own "Durban July" over the next few years.

I arrived just before the first race, choosing to stand in front of the main grandstand right near the finish. What excitement! People were still arriving, so it was not yet very packed; yet a roar could be heard from the spectators willing their horse to be first across the line. The vibe was divine.

I was waiting for three Adventure Racing Club people to pass on tickets. I met with Gideon, Glen and Mish; and we headed for the totes. With some assistance from a chap in the queue, I got it right to select the "Place" option, as opposed to Trifecta, Pick 6 and a handful of others, which I didn't understand. Although my horse looked good on paper, it was last (or second last). That was ten bucks gone. Time to bet again.

We had tickets for the Fashion TV marquee, which was closer to the start of the straight, a distance from the finish. Inside were betting stations and tvs. We would bet, sit for a drink, watch the weird outfits walking past and then go outside to see the horses thundering down the straight.

Wow! The grass at Turffontien is lush, thick and emerald. And from a distance (a full straight can be as much as 1200m! Coming around the corner they get almost a kilometer of straight-line distance) you see the brown horses and their colourful jockeys. They race past at an unbelievable speed. I thought Formula One cars were impressive; but seeing those horses... it must be an incredible rush to be moving that fast on a horse.

I made most of my bets based on the riders, especially for the International Jockey Challenge races (4 of the 10 races on the day). Bad move. I lost all my bets, except one race where my horse placed 3rd. I had bet R10; and I won R32. I left just after Race 6 and then followed the last 2 races online at home.

After reading the beginner's guide to horseracing, "how to bet" and the racecard for the day on Tab's website - with general information on the horse - I picked my favourites. If I'd bet on them I would have won because they placed 2nd and 4th (if there are 16 or more horses in a race they pay up to 4th place).

As a comment on hospitality... when we were walking out, a race came through. By then we were standing in front of the grandstand, facing the finish. What an amazing roar from the crowd, which had now packed all the seats. It was just so exciting, even though none of us had any bets in this race.

Inside the Fashion TV marquee the atmosphere was sophisticated but lacked passion and excitement. I saw a girl from the office and asked whether she'd placed a bet yet. She hadn't - and there were only 4 races to go. Actually, most of the people were not even watching the televisions.

My advice: iIf you go to the race, get seats in the grandstand with all and sundry; this is where the spirit of the races resides. You also get good views of the straight and the place where they show off the horses before they race so you can see how they're looking. The marquees are great for the post-racing parties - only (unless you're just at the races to hang with the fashionable).

I thoroughly enjoyed my first day at the races and I'll definitely go back to shout and cheer with everyone else. And perhaps with a little more experience I'll stop backing horses with nice names ridden by cute riders - a technique that really didn't work for me...

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