TODAY, a suggestion to Gold Circle, which will host the Vodacom Durban July: how about following New Zealand’s lead and allowing owners with July runners to attend the meeting? asks DAVID MOLLETT.
New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing has announced a significant move when racing resumes on June 20. A spokesperson said: “Our first race meetings since lockdown will be held with owners being able to attend. With the expectation the country will soon move to lockdown level 1, it might be possible that full crowds will be able to be on course from the outset.”
The Durban July — first run in 1897 — is SA’s most famous race and to see your colours carried to victory is the dream of the majority of the country’s owners. So imagine the frustration of having to watch the race at home with no big race camaraderie with your trainer, jockey and friends.
Allowing owners with Durban July runners access to the course would mean in the region of 60-70 extra attendees. This is not a large number and, with masks and social distancing, should not present a problem for the organisers.
Last season’s leading owner Chris van Niekerk will be one of the most disappointed if the entry ban remains in force. He has won two July’s with Pomodoro (2012) and Heavy Metal (2013).
Commenting on the suggestion, Van Niekerk, said: “I would think that by the time the July comes around, we may be on a lower level of the lockdown. In that case allowing a set number of people to attend e.g. owners appropriately attired with masks etc should not be too difficult a decision. How many owners would have horses running on the day? Limited numbers also make for effective social distancing. It can be done without spreading the virus which is the main objective of the lockdown regulations.”
The allowing-owners idea was hatched Saturday’s victory by Summer Pudding, who became the third winner of the Triple Tiara when taking the Wilgerbosdrift SA Oaks at Turffontein. I turned to my better-half and said: “How Mrs O [Oppenheimer] would have cherished this moment.”
Of course Mrs O — regarded as the “First Lady of Racing” and who died in 2013 — would have had to watch the action from her Houghton home, which would have displeased her immensely. She didn’t miss many big races in which her jockeys sported the family’s famous yellow and black colours.
Born Bridget McCall, Mrs O married Sir Harry Oppenheimer when she was a signals lieutenant on Robben Island. Her husband, who died in 2000 at the age of 92, was not madly keen on the sport but encouraged his wife’s involvement.
There is a superb picture of Mrs O in an orange and black outfit and matching hat that perfectly sums up her exuberance for the sport — particularly when horses bred at the Kimberley stud took top honours.
When she died nearly seven years ago, there was a night race meeting at Turffontein. The next day, one media report stated: “A sombre, sad mood hung in the Turffontein night air as news of the passing of the First Lady of Racing, Bridget Oppenheimer, filtered through.”
I was delighted to have a good rapport with Mrs O and an invitation to attend one of her birthday parties was — for this Englishman — like an invitation to Buckingham Palace.
Mrs O’s daughter, Mary Slack, as well as granddaughter, Jessica Jell and her husband Steven, would have all been at Turffontein last Saturday to witness Summer Pudding’s triumph in the hands of jockey Gavin Lerena.
Many will have raised their glasses to them on Saturday night. Not only are they carrying on the family dynasty, but they have launched the financial lifeboat to save racing, which was drifting rudderless in rough seas. – Courtesy Business Day.