Saturday, 19 July dawned crisp and clear and saw the dry, dusty little town of Dundee transform itself for the tenth successive inland racing festival.
A host of entertainers and fashion gurus whooped it up in-between the seven races and an attendance of just short of 20,000 spectators was recorded. Braais billowed smoke from the outside railings, entertainment was lavish and loud, champagne flowed and a flock of hospitality tents played host to the chic, the “diamonds” and the best dressed that the province could muster. Welcome to Heaven !
From billionaires and cabinet ministers to taxi drivers, wannabes and nobodies, the enthusiasm for this unusual event is stoked by a growing desire for the amateur riders and their rural trotting and pacing horses to upgrade to a professional level, recognition, and ultimately participation in the rewards of racing.
Distinctly different from what we expect at thoroughbred track venues, the track at Dundee is hard, unirrigated and patchy. Thoroughbreds would never survive these harsh underfoot conditions, but being older and hardier, and racing at trot and pace limits only, racing injuries amongst the competitors are rare. The track is 1800m in length and accommodates up to 30 horses in a packed line-up.
While races are run under the rules and regulations of Trotting South Africa, Gold Circle and the KZN Bookmakers’ Society make up the day’s two biggest sponsors. With 210 horses competing this year, just over R300,000 was paid out in stakes. Trotco (Pty) Ltd has a totalisator license in KZN and operated a tote on the day to add to the fun and race day atmosphere. Gold Circle staff, including Chairman Robert Mauvis, were also in attendance to lend a helping hand, as was the Horse Care Unit who kindly assisted in checking all horses and tack.
The Dundee July flagship event is the result of many weeks and months of selection races of 6 separate grades, and in KZN alone another 17 smaller tracks play host at smaller informal weekly meets. Mpumalanga, North West, Eastern Cape and Lesotho are also organized into loose district horse-owner associations.
Of course one must recognize the huge differential here – amateur status, non-thoroughbreds, the trotting and pacing gaits, and encouragingly (and unlike thoroughbred racing today) the discipline is supported by a groundswell of aspirant horsemen. Telebhela (meaning dancing) is the translation for trotting.
In Europe, the ridden code is known as “monté” (French for “mounted”), a carryover from Napoleonic military days, and in USA as “RUS” – “Racing under Saddle”. All versions fall under the control of the various Harness Racing or Trotting jurisdictions, and it is interesting to note that collectively on a global scale these codes outnumber thoroughbreds in tote turnovers, annual number of foals born, and races run.
Trotting in South Africa
Dean Latimer, chairman of Trotting South Africa and the control body is passionate about this burgeoning local discipline. Recognising the natural alignment of trotting with these black amateur horsemen, Latimer set up the structures for harness racing/trotting in 2003 and has worked tirelessly on a number of programs to upgrade standards. He views trotting as the natural and obvious mechanism to transformation of the racing industry in South Africa. “It’s crazy that the purists continue to insist on referring to this code as bush/traditional/rural racing – its TROTTING for heaven’s sake! Get used to it!” He is currently hosting visitors from Standardbred Canada who are working on some new funding initiatives to assist bring in a new pool of horses from Canada.
If anyone is interested in learning more about the discipline of trotting in South Africa, Dean Latimer would welcome any enquiries and can be contacted at [email protected] or visit their website at www.trotting.co.za