Still Smoking Ten Years On

The sponsorship of Rothmans went up in smoke in 2001. That is the year Trademark won it. Ipi Tombe marked a famous victory for the fairer sex in 2002 under the new sponsor banner and Saturday 2 July is the tenth anniversary of the seemingly happy marriage between Vodacom and the Durban July. The tenth year is traditionally celebrated with tin. As the popular rhyme goes, ‘if you have got this far you are bound to win.’ Vodacom has also made the transition this year from the familiar blue and green wedding dress to a blushing bride red.

The only man to own, breed and train a Devil has hopefully not spoilt the fairytale and party for the fairer sex by opting not to run his brilliant little girl. St John Gray doesn’t believe Dancewiththedevil produces her brilliance over 2000m and is somehow resisting a temptation that most owners and trainers would streak backwards down West Street to experience just once in their lives. .

With Ipi Tombe winning the inaugural running of the Vodacom Durban July on 6 July 2002,  and Dancer’s Daughter dead-heating with Pocket Power in 2008, it would have been absolutely thrilling to see the South African Horse Of The Year title being decided on July day between two great fillies, rather than by some self – opinionated secret squirrel committee somewhere in Johannesburg. Igugu now looks like she will have a golden chance to give Mike De Kock the distinction of training two fillies to win this great race in the space of a decade.

The big race sponsors, Vodacom,  have surely created a headache and some work for Ken Tweddell and his marketing team down Greyville way with their decision at the end of 2010 to go the route of reinventing their corporate image with a switch to the gaudy red of their majority shareholder,  Vodafone . This rainbow leap of commercially induced faith from the classy pastel green and blue to a hot,  supposedly ‘sexy’ colour, gives new meaning to the age-old poser of ‘does my bum look big in this?’, Although I suppose we will get used to it in a year or five – by which time, we are told,  Vodacom are likely to be changing their name too! Some sponsors will do anything to get out of a race sponsorship, won’t they? But on a serious note just imagine the practicalities of everything from the banners to the flags to signs – even that innovative mural at the Avondale gate –  that have to be changed. It must be a costly logistical pain in the proverbial.

Apparently the delay in changing the name to Vodafone has been caused by some tight-arsed minority shareholders in Southern Africa unconvinced about the huge sums  involved – alleged to be around R200 million in hard costs –   and cynicism over the benefits of a rebranding campaign. But agreement has been reached that the Vodacom brand is just too valuable to lose and the name is safe for at least five years. The rebranding campaign is the biggest ever undergone by the Vodafone group. The recent rebranding success of Cell C and the marketing success of the Ayoba campaign by MTN, apparently a spectacular emotional victory with customers, have created a real sense of urgency. 50% of Vodacom’s 40 000 sale outlets countrywide have been the first to be targeted and on a cosmetic but symbolically strategic angle, Vodacome Group  CEO Pieter Uys is apparently even  moving out of his corner office into an open plan office. You have an office, Mr Du Plessis?

There is also a real racy twist to the metamorphosis. This should create some common ground for the telecommunications guys while they  sit around the boardroom table with their equine counterparts too. That is the rumours that Vodacom paid Cell C to change its own corporate colours from red to black recently. This has been laughed off and scoffed at by Vodacom. So myths, bulldust and legend are not unique to the sport of kinks, it seems.

By the time this edition of Sporting Post hits the streets, the 2011 Vodacom Durban July field will be known and the must-have souvenir edition of Winning Form, the first reference and intelligent analysis of the field,  will be going to print. The criticism, recriminations, finger pointing and butt-kissing will be purely academic as some owners and trainers will be happy, and others less so. The accusations and conspiracy theories will be flying as the sinister connection and buddy-value of the marginal qualifiers to those in power are debated and argued in the bars and the forums.   The always good party and lunch in the Stewards dining room,  where the field is announced under crystal chandeliers and the theme of the day – which just happens to be a ‘Right Royal Affair’ – is promoted with a stage show, will be winding down. Let’s hope it doesn’t land up looking like a Communist Party reunion with all  that red plastered all over  the place. I can just see it clashing with the carpets and curtains.

One thing is certain though. No connections ever to attend this party, even from the pre-Rothmans era right up to today,  have  caused more noise  and raised more eyebrows from the phony stiff upper-lip brigade,  than the legendary Brian Thomas and the Dynamite Mike gang. Even Mike Azzie’s dazzling pink jacket was quieter than his patrons who cheered and partied and raised the roof as their grey Fard gelding clawed his way into the final field for the 2007 running. Some joked at the time it was a case of fear factor? Who knows, who actually cares? It’s history.

There are sure as hell a few marginal case potential Dynamite Mikes in this year’s final field. The wheel turns in this game and the grey gelding won just two races after the hype, excitement and anticipation of that July day. Four years later he is racing happily in PE. So it’s not worth getting too over excited about. It is just another race, after all. All R3 million of it.

What will be , will be and let’s just  hope that everybody accepts the final field decision in good spirit.


The Great Unknown.

I watched Deez Dyanand’s excellent report on Tellytrack on Sunday evening on the recent Gambling Conference held at the Elangeni Hotel on the Durban beachfront. What fascinated me is that our racing executives continually refer to ‘uneven playing fields with other forms of gambling.’ I realise that they are probably referring chiefly to the varying and ‘unfair’ tax rate variances on the  various ‘retailers’. But why on earth don’t they start somewhere in their own backyards, instead of whinging?

Let’s consider these few items from the past 48 hours. Like the Tabgold website that regularly declares the Kimberley weather, penetrometer reading and going as ‘unknown’ hours after the meeting has started? Like the racing websites that don’t show scratchings. Like Muzi Yeni’s rides at Kimberley that are not shown as changes, yet we have already seen him sunning in the Clairwood Parade Ring on the same afternoon? Like the KZN Chapter Challenge Series that has no needle, no information – zero! Like the Apprentice Series  races that we watch, yet have no clue who is leading the log – zero interest, zero needle, zero public participation. Like the anonymous new trainers and jockeys that appear from time to time in the fields that we are expected to punt intelligently on.

Believe me the average R6- punter in the tote doesn’t even know what the open bet is.The problem is the big shots stay out of totes and don’t even know what or how their market think.
Blame the Bookies. Blame the casino. Blame the open bet. Blame, Blame. Blame.Shame.

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