Delightful Durbanville

Durbanville Racecourse

Cole Porter wrote ‘It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely’, but I must confess that when the other half announced that he’d found us a house in Durbanville I was not overly thrilled. I have a rather irrational horror of suburbia and the little outpost originally known as Pampoenkraal conjured visions of double cabs, ‘binnebraais’ and khaki! But as it turned out, it’s only 10 minutes’ drive from Equifeeds and 2 minutes from the Tack Shack which is about the friendliest tack shop in the world. But best of all, Durbanville boasts its very own race course!

To understand how the race course came into being, you need to look to the middle of the track, which houses the Cape Hunt and Polo Club.

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A Little Bit of History

The area has always been quite horsey and the Cape Hunt holds the distinction of being the oldest of the ‘new world’ hunts dating back to 1822. The first Cape Hunt foxhounds were imported by the Cape Governor at the time, Lord Charles Somerset. They originated from the English Beaufort Hunt and were originally kept in kennels at Lord Charles Somerset’s Hunting Lodge (now Somerset House Primary School). The Durban Hunt Club held its first outing under the name Cape Hunt Club in 1843.

Horse racing was staged at Durbanville from around 1898 and officially became known as the Durbanville Gymkhana Club in 1922. Races were held partly for fun and recreation but also to finance the accommodation of the hunting club’s dogs and were open to all horses and riders. The last amateur Durbanville Gymkhana Club race meet was held in December 1955. It was then renamed the Durbanville Turf Club and finally the Cape Hunt and Polo Club. It amalgamated with the Milnerton Turf Club under the umbrella of the Cape Turf Club and now forms part of Gold Circle.

The Cape Turf Club used Durbanville as a winter course and also staged around 20 Cape Hunt meetings there per year.

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Cape Hunt and Polo Club

The Cape Hunt Club was an incredibly vibrant, fun and festive group of people who loved their socializing, loved their riding and loved their horses. As it happened, a lot of the hunting crowd rode Thoroughbreds and participated in the amateur Cape Hunt races. The Cape Hunt was a fun and easy conduit into racing and my family was no exception. My dad caught the racing bug and enjoyed reasonable success as an amateur jockey. Back in those days, there was enough interest to support an entire race card of amateur races and it was a serious business!

With the lack of on course cameras, racing was a bit more rough and ready and I dare say a number of riders became rather intimately acquainted with the myrtle hedges that used to line the track. But there were fabulous horses, colourful characters and some wonderful racing. One only has to mention names like Sandy and Izak for enthusiasts to go all misty-eyed!

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Start Them Young

Children were allowed at hunt club meetings and reveled in the pleasure of our own race cards, lining the parade ring to pick our favourites, shouting our parents and friends home over the line and of course crowding around the winners enclosure to catch a glimpse of our champions.

It was a real nursery for future racing enthusiasts and a number of racing personalities cut their teeth in the Cape Hunt ranks. Hunt race cards featured names like Jeff Steadman, Terrence Millard, Vere Allin, Ralph Rixon, Tommy Loftus, Geoff and Carol Woodruff, Greg Ennion, Mike Bass, Greg Dabbs, Chris Snaith, Bill Prestage, the Steyn brothers and many more. And of course it paved the way to the more serious world of professional racing – as evidenced by the number of names in my list who still grace race cards today !

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Modern Durbanville

The Gold Circle website describes the country course as follows: ‘A left-handed course with a circumference of about 2200m, Durbanville has a run-in of about 600m and no straight course. Durbanville’s excellent drainage makes it an ideal winter racing venue and that is when almost all meetings there take place. With the home straight on a downward slope until just before the finish an ability to at least race handy is important over almost any distance, but the track’s reputation in this regard can also lead to pacemakers going much too fast early on. Horses who race from off the pace need a good turn of acceleration to give of their best at this course. Low number draws are a marked advantage over almost any distance and Durbanville has a tendency to produce course specialists.’

Despite its reputation, Durbanville has hosted a string of racing luminaries. I remember being on course the day Empress Club won the South Easter Sprint in December 1992, beating the much fancied Marie Galante home by a comfortable 1.5 lengths. Mike Azzie’s National Currency also graced the course in 2003, when Corne Orffer steered him home to a narrow 0.5 length victory over Southern Storm.

The course has been modernized and given a bit of spit and polish over the years, but it retains a wonderful rustic country charm. The layout of the course is relaxed and informal and the wooden façade, sprawling lawns and leafy surrounds lend a friendly, picnic atmosphere. With Table Mountain often casting long, cold shadows over the end of Kenilworth race meetings, Durbanville seems perennially warm and inviting.

Last Saturday was one of those rare, perfectly warm summer days at the country course. We’d popped by to support a couple of runners from our stable and although we’d only intended to stay for the first few, Durbanville worked its magic and we ended up enjoying the afternoon parked out on the grass.

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A Cracking Day At Durbanville

And it was an absolutely fantastic day’s racing. The Bass stable kicked off the afternoon with a win for Marsh Shirtliff, with last year’s Champion Apprentice Aldo Domeyer steering the flaxen-maned African Airways into the winner’s box. I really admire how Marsh is always on course to support his runners – whether he’s accompanying River Jetez on her international exploits, or a maiden in the first at Durbanville, his smile is always equally wide.

Our current champion trainer showed us why he is top of the log, by taking the first 3 races on the card. We were treated to a great run from Brett Crawford’s Jackson under the expert piloting of current EC Champion Jockey Karis Teetan in the 4th. Justin Snaith and Team Valor’s Comtesse Dubois won the 5th in a fighting finish from Enrani. Despite heavy scratchings in the 6th race, it produced another exciting finish, with Brandon Morgenrood pulling out all the stops to get Kwitizina home for Yogas Govender. The 7th race was the Listed Settlers’ Trophy and won by Riaan van Reenen’s Sun City. MJ Byleveld really earned his riding fee the hard way, having to hold off a determined double charge from Kannemeyer challengers In Writing and Blake. The 8th race was won very impressively by the Kannemeyer trained Liancourt Rock for the Fieldspring Racing and Jooste partnership. The son of Fastnet Rock has now chalked up his second consecutive victory from two starts and will be one to watch in the coming season. The last race of the day produced yet another thrilling finish, with talented young Cape apprentice Garith Wright holding off a determined Andrew Fortune to earn Stephen Page’s Abbey Creek a tour of the winner’s box.

With some of our brightest and best talents on show and the weather adding the finishing touch with some welcome summer sunshine, it was a great way to spend Heritage Day. Just a pity that on National Braai day, there seemed to be no fires behind the Boerewors Curtain.

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