Matches Stakes day 2017 dawned a bit blustery and overcast, but nothing could dampen the spirits of the intrepid Durbanville crowd.
Driving up Racecourse road, I got a pleasant shock to see the infield completely jam-packed with day trippers for the Coffee and Chocolate festival. While I still consider the clubhouse area the rightful property of the Cape Hunt & Polo Club and bristle at anyone else using it, I suppose one has to learn to accept things.
However, the normal Durbanville car park was also comfortably full and I very cheerfully found a spot somewhere in the general direction of the bowling club (funny the things that make me happy!)
On course buzz
The areas behind the old grandstand were filled with jumping castles and entertainment for the kids (well done to whoever organised the candy floss machine), there were a number of picnics on the front lawns and the lawn area directly adjoining the main grandstand building was the designated potjiekos competition arena. It was serious business with contenders really pushing the boat out and going all out in terms of presentation, as well as the all important job of keeping the chefs well hydrated during proceedings.
The track looked great and kudos to the course management team. The new and improved Durbanville seems to have eliminated most of the tightly-held beliefs on the going and draw bias and anyone who made the trip to the country course was well rewarded with a tantalising preview of some of what the Cape Summer Season will have on offer. The ‘short format’ 8 race card worked well, ensuring that the day felt jam-packed and the afternoon flew by.
Dan Katz and Donovan Dillon kicked off the card with Trip To Ibiza cracking her maiden in the 1000m World Sports Betting Soon On Course At Durbanville (who names these things ?) Maiden Plate. A change of whip hand and a couple of right handed reminders in the last 200m got her moving so smartly that she beat Saltire home by a widening ¾ length.
Joey Ramsden and Grant van Niekerk scored with Max Power in the Boer & Butcher Maiden Plate in the second of the day’s card and Red Ginger did it so easily in the FM 79 Handicap that Bernard Fayd’herbe had to look left and right to make sure sure he hadn’t missed anything on their way to securing her third career win for Justin Snaith.
The 1200m Progress Plate dished up some more exciting racing as Magical Wonderland made it four in a row to retain her unbeaten record for Candice Robinson and stable jockey, Aldo Domeyer. What an exciting prospect for the coming season, but with a bit of scrimmaging further back, there are a number to note for the coming months.
Just like that, it was time for the Matchem Stakes. The Glen Kotzen-trained Gold Standard was out early on parade and seems to get more glamorous every time I see him. He really is a credit to the yard. However, as I said earlier, the old Durbanville hoodoo seems to be well and truly exorcised and no-one was holding back in terms of fire power, with a really cracking field for this year’s Matchem. La Favourari skipped the parade and went straight down to the start, but then decided it was not his day, breaking loose and high-tailing it home, leaving a field of 9 to face the starter.
Our Mate Art has always been one of Mr Bass’ favourites and while doing nothing wrong last season, somehow always managed to find someone better than him on the day. However, he’s been foot perfect this season and scored by a neck from Table Bay, to draw first blood for the Bass Racing team for the Cape summer season. I just have to make a special mention of Silicone Valley, who was last at the 400m mark and grew wings to finish a fast closing 3rd.
Feel Good Victory
While every win is special and one is always happy for the connections, the joy on Michael Robinson’s face after Goodtime Gal’s easy victory in the Diana Stakes was infectious. With Anton Marcus carded for the ride, one had to look at her twice and sitting on the weighing room steps waiting for his DVD after the race, Mike related that Anton had actually phoned to ask for the ride and he’d been only too thrilled to accept. She beat home a quality field and did it with ease and as ‘GG’ is one of the larger than life characters in the yard, Saturday’s trophy will be particularly treasured.
Asked how he found the filly, Mike says she found him. Juan van Heerden had her on the farm and was looking for someone to train her. She’d been offered and turned down by a few other yards before Mike was invited to look at her. He says he loved her on site and told Juan it would be a pleasure to train her. While no walk in the park – Mike admits that she does ‘talk a bit and can kick a bit if you’re not careful’ the daughter of Royal Air Force clearly occupies a very special place in the yard. An elated Mike said they did not have any immediate plans in mind as yet and are just going to enjoy the win before deciding where to go from here. Again, special mention must be made of Gimme Six who flew from the back of the field for second.
There was another quality field of 3yo’s in the World Sports Betting Best Prices First (really guys?) Progress Plate. In a scrimmagy final 200m, Kasimir and Woljayrine drifted across to the inside rail, squeezing out Bold Respect and dishing up a ding dong battle to the line with Kasimir coming out the marginal winner.
Steel Rose closed the four-legged racing for the afternoon with a runaway victory in the World Sports Betting – Bet With The Best (eish) MR72 handicap and with two wins and a place from 5 starts – all for Piet Botha – the Gitano Hernando seems to have been another shrewd purchase by Glen Puller.
The race replays probably do better justice than I can to the crowds lining the rail. It has been such a long time since we’ve had such good attendance that the shouts of encouragement from the railbirds were enthusiastic enough to spook a couple of the horses – most of whom probably haven’t been exposed to crowd support before. There were lots of old racing faces – or rather, faces from the old Durbanville days making for plenty mini reunions under the plane trees. And with plenty of happy faces on the jumping castles, hopefully a few we might see again in the future.
Thanks to the Boer & Butcher for their input to the day. New sponsors are rare birds and we should celebrate them as the rare treasures they are.
Unfortunately, the Matchem was something of a victim of its own success, as the on course catering seemed to struggle to keep up with demand. While this would ordinarily be a cause for celebration, it was rather a pity, as there were a good few grumbles and one hopes these teething problems will be ironed out soon.
By this stage the potjiekos competition had been plated and judged and the SA – NZ rugby game had kicked off, with many racegoers either drifting off home for the game, or huddling on the concourse to watch it on the big screen. However, there was still a good crowd on the rail to cheer the jockeys on in the Charity Chase.
The Kenilworth team always get behind this event, pulling out the starting stalls, commentating on it and even recording it all on camera. Although an attempt was made to level the playing fields this year, we perhaps need to revise the handicap conditions for ‘Usain’ Domeyer. With a bit of a last minute reshuffle, the final teams were Brandon May and Tyron Langdon, Richard Fourie and Bernard Fayd’herbe, Donovan Dillon and Anthony Andrews, Akshay Balloo and Robert Khathi, Aldo Domeyer and Corne Orffer, Lucian Africa and Wesley Marwing, MJ Byleveld and Grant van Niekerk, and Louis Burke and Calvin Ngcobo.
Aldo made his usual speedy start, with apprentice Louis Burke giving him a real run for his money up the inside. There was a muddle at the changeover with Aldo handing over to Grant van Niekerk who streaked away for the win, with Anthony Andrews in second and Tyron Langdon third. There was plenty of entertainment as the winning team posed Usain Bolt style for their victory photos. However, everyone had a lot of fun and the biggest winner was the Cart Horse Protection Association who went home with a cheque for R32,000. Huge thanks to all the jocks for finding the time, energy and enthusiasm after a long day’s riding to come out and raise money for such a fantastic cause as well to all the sponsors for their generous support.
With just a few more meetings left at Durbanville, it would be great to see whether we can build on Saturday’s attendance and get the crowds back a few more times before racing moves back to Kenilworth. And hopefully we’ll get the catering sorted out next time.