It’s The Guineas Jim, but not as we know it

A horsey friend from Joburg got in touch a few weeks ago to let me know she was bringing her daughter to Cape Town for Christmas and to ask whether they could join me for the Guineas.

As I love taking people to the races I was delighted and said of course.

Being an organised lady, she then asked for details like dress code, where to park and where to book for lunch.  I had to tell her that no one really bothers with the dress code much, that there would be plenty of parking and that booking for lunch was unnecessary.  She was (as you probably are) rather shocked.  Her last experience of racing (which happened to be a Guineas meet) was some 20 years ago when people dressed to the nines and you had to jostle for a good view.  How things have changed.

Having her young daughter in tow, she decided to ignore my advice (horsey women are like that!), booked a table anyway and was careful to arrive early ‘to get a good parking spot’.  She also came beautifully turned out in a smart frock and a hat.  A hat (without a sponsor’s logo) on the racecourse! How wonderful!

We met at the entrance to the parade ring and had a quick catch up.  I asked whether she’d found everything OK and managed to get herself sorted.  She said yes, no problem, but that she’d had quite a time trying to book her lunch table as no-one seemed to be answering the phone (I subsequently tested the theory and was answered fairly promptly and put through to a very helpful gentleman, so perhaps this was just bad luck).

I noticed that she was on her own and when I asked, she was delighted to tell me that her daughter was off playing on the jumping castle.  What a good idea, she said, although what a shame that the kiddies entertainment was only posted on Facebook close to 5pm the day before as she might have been able to entice a few other friends along too.

Anyway, we went through to see the runners, chat to some people and generally soak up the atmosphere. The good people of CTS had set out a stand with some complimentary bubbles, but other than that, there did not seem to be much going on.

Freemasons ?

I had stumbled quite by accident on the Guineas draw the week before (for some reason held by invitation only after the Ready to Run gallops at Durbanville and not advertised anywhere that I’d been made aware of).  I grabbed a catalogue to look at some of the sale lots and while paging through, had seen a notice about a Legends Lunch, a charity children’s Christmas party and a book signing by one of our racing greats, Patricia O’Neil, to promote her new book, A Chimpanzee in the Wine Cellar.  Again, other than what I’d stumbled on via the Ready To Run catalogue and by chatting to Robin Bruss at the Guineas draw, I’d not heard a word about any of these events anywhere else.  I gather there had been a pre-Guineas cocktail party for the connections of the Guineas runners.  However as they were all surely already coming the Guineas, one rather wonders who the event was being promoted to? I thought racing was supposed to be marketed to the public, not trying to give the Freemasons a run for their money.

Still ‘Lion’ in the Bedroom

I bought my copy of A Lion In The Bedroom from Harrods many years ago and having lent it out a good deal, I thought a few signed copies of the new book would make ideal Christmas presents (and save my personal copy from some wear and tear).  There was no on-course advertising, but I guessed that the book signing would probably be on the top floor, so my friend and I trekked upstairs to see whether anyone was around.  I found Mrs O’Neil graciously sitting at a table and she was kind enough to tell us that copies of the book were indeed available for R200 each.  I thanked her and then rushed off to get some cash.  Unfortunately by the time I got back, the book stand had been packed up and there was no-one available to tell me where to find a copy.  Missed opportunities all round and my family all got plants this Christmas instead.

Burying the bodies

I bumped into a charming lady in the foyer who was waiting for her partner to return from the gents.  Some official looking people walked through wheeling some large black boxes that I assumed to be sound equipment.  ‘Looks like bodies, doesn’t it ?’ she whispered conspiratorially.  I quipped back ‘Except racing tends to ship bodies out, rather than in!’

Back in the lift, my friend noticed a piece of paper stuck to the wall listing the forthcoming feature races.  ‘Where can I get a copy of this?’ she demanded.  I had to say that other than the racing fixtures website and my trusty Turf Directory, I really wasn’t sure how ordinary Joe Public was supposed to get a list of our forthcoming features.  ‘Really?’ she observed drily, ‘you offer a 3 course lunch for R150, you have plenty of safe, secure parking, you have facilities for children and about 7 hours of entertainment for adults – all free – and you don’t advertise it anywhere?  It’s as if you don’t want people to come racing!’  I had to say, I was hard pressed to disagree.

A quick glance across the lunch crowd had confirmed that the marketing strategy had hit its target audience solidly.  There was the usual collection of people who always come racing (owners, trainers, a few breeders and the day’s sponsors) and of course a few friends and cronies.  No surprise there then.

Surprising Support

Back on the ground floor we quickly checked on the jumping castle and I noticed the stall holders who seem to have become a fixture at Kenilworth lately.  The lady selling the bra clip is one of my favourites and I said a quick hello.  As we walked away, my friend was somewhat bemused as to why we sell lingerie accessories on our premier racecourse, on one of our premier race days, but again, I had no answer.

Dean’s Double

We stayed downstairs to watch the features and I was thrilled to predict that Fieldspring Racing’s lovely chestnut In Writing would win the Stayers race.  Our stayers tend to enjoy longer careers than their sprinting counterparts and one gets more chance to get to know them.  In Writing has been a long standing favourite and I was chuffed to see our Gold Cup winner back on form.

We made our way back to the parade ring to watch the Guineas contenders strut their stuff.  Despite the last minute withdrawal of The Hangman (commiserations to the connections – may I wish him a speedy recovery) it was a mouth-watering line-up of the cream of the current crop and we prepared ourselves for a spectacle.  The horses did not disappoint.  Sadly, the crowd did as there simply wasn’t one.  Several trainers, owners and staff were very bitter about the glaring lack of support.  This is the Guineas for heaven’s sake !  Where was everyone ??  Apart from the usual suspects, the parade ring looked much the same as always.  Well, if we do go preaching to the converted, what exactly do we expect?  I subsequently tried to contact the marketing team only to be told they’re on leave until 7 January.  Oh well, good thing the Queen’s Plate is not until the 12th then.

But back to the Guineas.  Lady Laidlaw’s breath-taking colt, Capetown Noir lifted the Leander Starr Jameson trophy with consummate ease, giving the Kannemeyer team their second feature of the afternoon.  It was also a lovely combined birthday and anniversary present for Lord Laidlaw and would have been sure to add to the festivities that evening.

I got to show my friend and her daughter the trophy close up and it really is an exceptional piece of craftsmanship.  I also have to add that I loved the touch of having an engraver on hand to inscribe the trophies with the new winners’ names. Unfortunately not everyone was happy with the result with my friend’s daughter dissolving in tears because ‘I wanted the grey one to win!’  Ah well, perhaps next time.

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