These days, a thirteen race card fills me with dread, rather than anticipation. Particularly with a new outfit for the ‘style ahead of the field’ Afro chic theme and a brand new pair of shoes that I hadn’t had time to break in yet.
However, we’d procured our accreditation and after the to-ing and fro-ing that entailed, we weren’t letting go of them for toffee. We were off to the Sun Met!
It is something of a mixed blessing that it is noticeably easier to get to Kenilworth on Met day these days. With possibly less traffic than one would encounter on a mid-week afternoon, we turned into Rosmead, parked our trusty vehicle and immersed ourselves in Met Day 2018.
While there is a lot to be said for anonymity, it’s also great to spend time ‘where everyone knows your name’. Although being a Met regular means it’s harder to get away with throwing one’s name away these days, it is nice to bump into familiar faces and we hadn’t made it through the gate before seeing some old friends who were managing the hospitality areas for the day.
Look And Feel
When Sun International first announced their sponsorship, I got a little nervous after attending the launch function. However, Sun have been restrained and subtle in their approach and it is paying off handsomely.
They have sensibly taken their lead from the tried and tested Queen’s Plate template and simply added their own dressing to make the day their own. There were flashes of glitz, but the flourishes served to accent and highlight, rather than dominate and the racing remained reassuringly centre stage. The crowd was small, but elegant and purposeful. It was also very cosmopolitan and perhaps thanks to the corporate support, felt smart and grown-up (gone my teenage days of jostling for space on the front apron and sitting cross legged on the grass sharing vodka spiked watermelons with fellow racegoers).
The bright, but not garish colour scheme is gentle and inviting, the Afro chic theme worked well and from a layout point of view, like the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate, they had set out a corporate lounge area across the chute in the picnic area of old. There were also a few refreshment stands available, including the attractive Jameson tent and some very friendly staff manning a liquid refreshment stand, who dished out ice cold beer with a smile. The dress theme worked well and while there were many first timers, people were interested in the racing and the punters mingled well with the lookers, the onlookers and party folk.
The layout created an atmosphere, while ensuring you never felt you were in danger of getting crushed. The separate entrance and exit lanes across the chute were also a winner to help get people efficiently where they needed to be.
The course was dressed with flowers and the odd flourish here and there – such as the new winner’s enclosure which I thought worked well, as well as a smart new podium. However, other than that, they went for a less is more approach, leaving the hospitality tents on the infield to provide most of the aesthetics.
The Snaith yard gave warning of what was to come, kicking off the card by bringing home the first two past the post in the South African Hall Of Fame FM 84 Handicap powered by Samsung (otherwise known as the first race).
Brett Crawford added another strike for Philippi with Traces in the Summer Juvenile Stakes – outgunning the somewhat infamous PE visitor, Carlita, by 2.5 lengths.
Grant van Niekerk swung into action in the CTS 1200, to bank $500,000 for the Basses on the classy Dutch Philip.
There was perhaps a bit of karma in the victory of Undercover Agent, as his nursery has felt the freeze from certain quarters in days gone by, but with changes afoot, victory was sweet indeed.
The Wrath Of The Gods
While our sales race gladiators got name panels on their number cloths, the Gr1 Cape Flying runners did not and perhaps it was tempting the wrath of the racing gods that put a spanner in the works of the Met day sprint. Two horses failed to pull up after the false start and another bolted the course shortly afterwards, reducing the field to 14. However, it’s quality rather than quantity that counts and the dependable Sergeant Hardy ran his little bay heart out for a well-deserved first Gr1 victory and the first of the day’s three Gr1 scalps for the Snaiths.
There is always a quality turn out for the Cape Derby and this year was no exception. However, Glen Kotzen trained Eyes Wide Open was too good for them on the day, winning by 1.75 lengths for an ecstatic Richard Fourie.
Snowdance, Snowdance, Snowdance
There was again, a wonderful class of fillies for the Gr1 Majorca Stakes, but there was only ever going to be one winner and Snowdance duly blew them all away under a focussed ride from Grant van Niekerk, posting his third win of the afternoon.
We were still dispensing with the post race preliminaries when a sleek black helicopter landed in the middle of the track, dropping off Chief Entertainment Officer, Usain Bolt. I was curious to see what he was like in the flesh and can confirm that he is as charming as he is gracious. After briefly addressing the crowds from the podium, his entourage accompanied him up the track, through the chute to the parade ring, shaking hands and signing autographs as he went.
He proved a gracious host during the Met jockey introductions, gamely signing, amongst others, Corne Orffer’s skull cap cover. Nicely done.
A big race, well any race really, is a nerve-wracking event. You want everyone to win, but that’s not the way life works. The best one can hope for is a noble and true run race and pray that everyone gets home safe.
The gates crashed open to a quiet reception – the roar from the crowd seems to be a thing of the past. Krambambuli kept them honest in the lead, Captain America loomed dangerously over his inside shoulder and Legal Eagle took his usual position just off the vanguard, poised to strike. It was anybody’s race coming into the straight. Captain America stole a march down the inside, Anton posed the question and Legal Eagle took flight and our hearts with him. Marinaresco gave chase, African Night Sky challenged. And then, unbelievably, Oh Susanna found wings of her own. And just when we couldn’t stand it anymore, from the clouds Last Winter bolted from the blue. The race offered everything and the filly took it all and raised it.
Heroics, heartbreak and euphoria – and, ultimately, a new hero – or in this case, heroine. You’d have to go far to find all of that crammed into two minutes.
Huge congratulations to the Snaiths, to Grant and to the Drakenstein team on their first Met trophy. It’s hard to put into words the time, the effort, the blood, sweat, tears and above all the horses and the hard-earned lessons that got them to the podium on Saturday – congratulations to you all and thank you for an unforgettable spectacle that will have us all talking for generations to come.
If you don’t like where you are, Move! You are not a Tree!
We seldom take the time to heap praise when we have the opportunity, so now seems as good a time as any to express my admiration for Justin. Despite years of trying – over two generations – the Met had eluded the Snaiths’ grasp. His relentless determination to succeed saw him adjust and finesse and above all make the changes necessary – not always an easy or comfortable process – to achieve his goal. He is an example to all of us.
Best of the rest
Richard Fourie (who also had a blinding afternoon, posting two additional wins to go with his Derby victory) fought out the Cape Stayers’ finish with Bernard Fayd’herbe and delivered a first Met day victory for Dan Katz. Justin grabbed a 5th winner for the day with Hotel Cipriani and Glen Kotzen and the Woodhill team mopped up the last two of the afternoon.
As the sun disappeared behind the mountain, people started making their way home, massing for the after party, or gathering in knots to reflect on the day’s events. As always, there were hidden gems of friends and family – new and old – to be discovered and chats that lingered long into the night. Best of all, my new shoes held up – result !
The threatened strike action was diffused and the solidarity march was conducted in a peaceful and orderly fashion as promised. While congratulations are to be offered all round for the – fortunately successful – 11th hour scrambling that saw an unseemly and entirely unsubtle number of horses changing hands in the last week, including Brutal Force who registered new ownership on the very eve of the race as well as three scratched as late as Saturday morning, one hopes that some questions will be asked and some planning done for the future. Racing’s remit is racing – it’s not for us to wade into the treacherous territory of deciding what is or isn’t in the interests of the greater good. At least, it never was until now, which again begs some interesting questions.
Human nature is a funny thing. We tend to focus on what is right in front of our noses, instead of keeping a healthy eye on the bigger picture and casting an occasional glance at the world outside our window. Thanks to the unbending mean-spiritedness of a single individual, we got through Saturday by the skin of our teeth and all probably aged 10 years in the process. While it would be nice to pretend this sort of thing will not happen again in a hurry, the events of last year, which included no less than 3 major train wrecks for racing, seem to predict otherwise. Nature abhors a vacuum, so you can rest assured, a new challenge will emerge to take its place soon enough.
The ins and outs of the current stew are for wiser and more considered heads to unravel, but I’m a fan of the mantra that if you lose, you shouldn’t lose the lesson. If we are honest, last week’s debacle showed in stark relief that we do not have sufficiently robust processes, wit or the lateral thinking required to deal adequately with a situation of this nature. While that is regrettable, it does offer some opportunities to grow and to improve. If we are smart, our decision makers will take a long, hard look at exactly how and why we got into the situation in the first place and hopefully look at putting measures in place to ensure the next time it happens – because it won’t be long – we have some tools to help ourselves.
Maya Angelou said ‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better’. The last few months – if not years – have handed us an extraordinary learning opportunity. Now that know better, here’s hoping we learn to do better.