Cape Town’s got the big studs…and more horseracing trivia

Cape Town — or the Cape of Good Hope as it was known back then — has been the centre of horseracing in South Africa since 1797 and this elite sport is still a money-spinner for the city. Here’s how it all started…

Cape Town, the birthplace of horseracing in South Africa, has been hosting horse races since 1797. Here’s an even cooler fact: the country’s first recorded race, the Turf Club Purse, which was run on Green Point Common on 18 September 1797, was won by the five-year-old Zemman Shaw.

The Cape’s proud horseracing heritage can be seen in the quality of horses bred here. According to Candice Robinson of Mike Bass Racing, Cape Town has the best breeding grounds in the country: “If I mention some, I am probably going to leave others out, but a few of the larger studs in Cape Town are: Highlands Studs, Drakenstein Studs, Maine Chance Farms and Klawervlei Stud. Cape Town is by far the best breeding area in the country. They breed the best horses, and they’ve also go the biggest studs here.”

How Zemman Shaw would fare against the likes of Politician (the horse which won the J&B Met in 1978 and 1979) or Pocket Power (J&B Met winner 2007, 2008, 2009) is up for debate. After all, the industry has come a long way since Lord Charles Somerset first established and developed the sport in the region.

These days, the labour-intensive industry provides employment for around 12 000 people in and around Cape Town and contributes roughly R2.71-billion to the country’s Gross Domestic Product — at least those were the numbers in 2009, the last year stats were made available. Between 2002 and 2009, the industry made a cumulative contribution of R16.81-billion to South Africa’s GDP.  Somewhat surprisingly, the industry seems to weather poor financial climates fairly well.

“The racing industry is pretty much dominated by your upper echelon of wealthy people,” explains Robinson. “Racehorses are expensive, so it’s not a sport for any old person in the street. While most of the people involved in the sport are from old money, in recent years we have had some new money coming into racing. The industry has certainly maintained itself through rocky financial times… somehow it seems steady. There are people with less money who have smaller shares who do it for the love of the sport and I guess, in hard times, those are the people who fall away.”

While the industry is fairly robust, Robinson laments the lack of interest from the general public. Enthusiasm for horseracing, she says, is limited to big events such as the J&B Met.

“It’s not what it used to be in the olden days; these days nobody comes to the races anymore, which is really quite sad. I think that there is just not enough marketing, or perhaps not the correct marketing. Obviously people come to the big events and you get people who come for the betting —the backbone of horseracing — but it is much easier to do that via the phone these days. People just don’t seem to come to the racecourse anymore.”

Dynamite in small packages: what it takes to be a top jockey

Champion jockey and three-time J&B Met winner Bernard Fayd’Herbe breaks down the weighty issues behind the glitz and glam of taking a horse to the finish line.

I have always lived around horses — my grandfather was record-holding multiple champion jockey Tiger Wright — and, apart from size, I think a love of horses is probably the biggest requirement to becoming a professional jockey.

I was born in Durban and grew up in Madagascar. When I was 14, trainer Neil Bruss saw me riding amateur races there and suggested that I go to the South African Jockey Academy in Summerveld near Durban.

The entrance requirements are quite strict when it comes to size. They’re obviously looking for small and light people, so when you apply they take your measurements: from shoe size, knee to heel length, etc. I got in to the Academy in 1996 and boarded there for the five years of my apprenticeship. Once you qualify, you’re on your own, but you’re also ready to take on the world — literally, because top jockeys are flown all over the world to race.

When it comes to jockeys, size really does matter — probably more so than for fashion models! They say you’ve got to have nerves of steel to race, and yes, there is an element of risk involved, but I just don’t think about that at all — you go out there and give it your best and make sure your horse gives it their best.

I do have one fear though, and that’s putting on weight… I don’t really have a small frame so I have to guard against getting heavy. The biggest disappointments of my career come when I find a very good horse, but can’t race it because we don’t weigh up.

But fitness is also part of the job description. A jockey has to be one of the fittest athletes in the world, so I have a gym programme that involves a lot of cardio to keep my weight down. I also run a lot, cycle and swim.

When I’m preparing for big race days my routine involves getting up at 04h00, sitting in the sauna for 30 minutes, then training horses for two hours. Once home, I run on the beach, maybe swim — you have to keep going. And that’s the other aspect of being a jockey that people probably don’t realise: you have to have a helluva work ethic and be a bit thick-skinned, because there are a lot of highs and lows.

I work between 15 and 25 horses, six days a week. We don’t just train with the horses we ride on race days — in fact, sometimes you’ll get flown abroad to ride a horse you don’t even know. But I try to spend a lot of time riding a horse before a big race; some days hard, some days slow.

Kenilworth (where the J&B Met is held each January) is my favourite racetrack because it’s the fairest track in the country, so normally the best horse wins. Greyville, for instance, is a bit tricky, with an uphill coming into a straight that only gives 400 metres to the finish. But Kenilworth is a flat track, that goes wide — when you’re riding around the turn and you swing into the straight, you’ve got 600 metres to the finish — enough time to get your horse to the frontline.

How to get the cameras clicking at the J&B Met

Fashion designer Richard Huisamen offers some pointers on how to pull off a winning look at the annual J&B Met, the most glamorous horse racing event on Cape Town’s calendar.

The J&B Met is one of the most over-the-top events on South Africa’s fashion calendar. Where other events tend to build on a rather low-key style, the Met has, over the years, developed into an event where people really experiment and push some boundaries in fashion. The clothes tend to be brighter, the dresses shorter and the hats bigger! This is one event where no one wants to fade away and everyone competes for attention.

So you’re guaranteed great fashion hits — and maybe even a few misses… If you want to make a grand entrance in a winning ensemble that’ll get you noticed, remember that it’s all in the fit, and how you pull it off.  But don’t even think of rocking up in your matric dance dress or a bridesmaid’s dress.  Anything in taffeta is also totally inappropriate. It is a special fun day — get something new and work with the theme!

Remember, a dress or suit that fits well is always a winner, so if it’s especially been made for you, you’re good to go… One outfit that stands out in my memory is a very short gold dress Top Billing presenter Jeannie G once wore that looked like it was made out of feathers — almost like she had wings coming out of her back — and that was quite striking.

Don’t neglect the finishing touches like shoes that complement your outfit, and carefully chosen accessories like great sunglasses, well-styled hair and a fantastic hat is almost essential in finishing a look. Top that with a great smile and you, too, can knock them out!

J&B Met: Everything you need to know about race day

The J&B Met is one of the most anticipated events on Cape Town’s summer social calendar. We’ve got all the information you could possibly need right here…

Right, let’s get the basics out of the way up front. The J&B Met takes place each January (watch this space for exact dates for 2017) at the Kenilworth Racecourse in Cape Town. The event, which starts at 10h00, is only open to those over the age of 18. The big race — the J&B Met — is usually run at 16h30, and the racecourse closes at midnight.

Tickets: When it comes to tickets, you can choose between a basic general entry ticket, a grand stand ticket, which gives you unreserved seating on the winning straight, and a FlipSide Fest ticket. Tickets can be purchased through Computicket and designated tote offices around Cape Town.

Theme: Every year the J&B Met has a different theme. While it’s by no means obligatory, you are expected to put a little effort into dressing up to match the theme. But fret not, the themes tend to be pretty vague so there’s plenty of room for interpretation. Mash up textures, styles, or patterns to create that one-of-a-kind flamboyant, sexy or elegant ensemble.

Entertainment: Sure, horses are the stars of this particular show, but for those with short attention spans or limited equine enthusiasm, there will also be a line-up of hilarious emcees introducing some of South Africa’s hottest musicians. Of course, the J&B Met is not the J&B Met without the Most Elegant Couple competition.

What to bring: Some form of identification (in case you win big or look decidedly youthful); money and bank cards (there will be ATMs dotted around the venue and some totes will allow you to draw money using your debit card); sunscreen; a hat and a beach umbrella (no branding allowed); something warm to wear if you plan to stay after the sun goes down.

What to leave at home: Most of these are pretty obvious — no firearms, weapons, fireworks, or explosives — but some are perhaps worth mentioning. You are also not allowed to bring alcohol into the venue; there will be plenty of bars serving up your favourite tipple. While beach umbrellas are allowed, gazebos or portable shade structures are not. And finally, while it might seem like a good idea to pack in your vuvuzela, the noise scares the horses, so leave it at home.

Parking: If you decide to drive to the J&B Met — not a good call if you plan on frequenting those pop-up bars — you’ll want to park in the Youngsfield parking area. It’s the easiest public parking area to access and a free shuttle service will take you to and from the racecourse. It costs, but that is a lot less than you’ll end up paying if you get fined for parking illegally in the residential area around the racecourse. In total, there are five different parking lots, which accommodate 20 000 vehicles, in a one kilometre radius of the racecourse.

J&B Met: Behind the scenes with a pro horse trainer

The horses that race in Cape Town’s J&B Met are magnificent creatures built for power, speed and victory. But they don’t get like that all on their own. Candice Robinson of Mike Bass Racing, the only female horse trainer for the 2016 J&B Met, shares what it takes to train a horse for an event like this.

Training a horse is a process. You are never just training a horse for one race; although, obviously, a race such as the J&B Met — where the best 16 horses in the country over that distance compete — is one of the big ones… We’ve won the J&B Met five times. It’s not an easy race to win; it’s a very difficult race to win.

Before you can enter a horse in the J&B Met, you have to get to that stage in its career… The horse also needs to be fit and well at the time to run the best race it possibly can on the day. It’s not just about being good enough; there are a lot of factors that go into preparing a horse for a Met.

It’s important to remember that horses, like people, have different abilities. We have horses that run over shorter distances (1 000 metres to 1 200 metres), we have horses that run middle distance (1 400 metres to 1 600 metres) and we’ve got horses that run over more ground (2 000 metres to 3 000 metres). They are all pretty much trained differently; I would train a fast horse differently to a horse that goes 2 500 metres. Same as you would a human being — a sprinter would train differently to a long-distance runner.

Along the way, things do tend to go wrong: horses get injured or sick. It’s never plain sailing! Plus, the horses actually need to be good enough. Although there are certain qualities that you look out for when you are buying a yearling (young horses between one and two years old), you can’t say for certain what they will become. Some can run and others just can’t. Some are athletes and others aren’t. Some horses only ever win a race; some of then never win a race; others will win 10. It all depends on the horse.

There are definitely some trainers who are better than others. I don’t think that you could just take somebody off the street and put them in a training position and say: this is what you need to do. I don’t think that would work; you need to have a feel for a horse.

Not even every person who rides a horse may be able to train a horse either — some people just have a feeling for being able to train a horse well… You need to understand horses, and you need to be able to feel when things are right and when they aren’t. Then, you need to be able to make small tweaks to make them right. It’s very much about feeling!

Training horses is a lot of hard work. It’s not a nine-to-five kind of job. You have to work weekends and you don’t get to go away on holiday for three weeks when you feel burnt out. We work right throughout the year, and it is hard work. You really need a good team behind you, and you need clients who trust you. Without clients, you have no buying power, and without buying power, you don’t have winning horses. You need to build up a reputation so that people with money — and a love of racehorses — are willing to invest in you.

J&B Met: More than just a day at the races

The J&B Met is, without a doubt, one of the highlights of Cape Town’s summer social calendar. The beautiful people, flamboyant fashion and the prospect of winning big are almost as intoxicating as that rare blend of J&B whisky. Oh, and horses. There are also horses. This is how it all started…

For thousands of people — those who know little about betting and even less about horses — the J&B Met is not really about the horses. It’s about seeing and been seen. It’s about getting dressed up and socialising and posting it all on Instagram. It’s about the glitz and the glamour and that awesome after-party.

Don’t get me wrong; it is also about the horses. It’s about the thrill of placing a bet and cheering like a maniac when the horse you picked gallops down the home straight… but if your horse loses, you’ll shrug it off, grab another drink, and stalk your celeb crush.

For most, the J&B Met is just one of Cape Town’s top fun, social events… and this is a good thing. It is what draws tens of thousands of people to Kenilworth Racecourse year after year. It is what makes this event so successful and guarantees its longevity. But there was a time when the Met’s status as one of South Africa’s big three in horseracing wasn’t certain.

The first recorded winner of the Metropolitan Mile (as the Met was once known) was Sir Hercules, in 1883. The race was originally run on the Green Point Common: the competitors were English soldiers attached to the Cape Garrison; the spectators, ladies of the Cape. In the late 19th century the race was moved to the Kenilworth Racecourse and it became the South African Turf Club’s feature event each summer.

Over the decades, the event lost some of its sparkle and although it had been firmly established as one of the country’s top three races by the 1960s (alongside the Durban July and the Summer Cup in Gauteng), the general public — and even those in the industry — began to lose interest.

Then, in 1978, which was (not-so coincidentally) a mere year after Justerini & Brooks began sponsoring the event, a magnificent chestnut called Politician entered the race. The stake was R50 000 and Politician had an outstanding reputation. The crowds flocked to the racecourse and Politician, with “Big Race” Bertie Hayden in the irons, did not disappoint.

Trainer Syd Laird returned with Politician the following year, drawing an even bigger crowd, and Politician achieved something unprecedented by winning the Met two years in a row. Politician’s impressive feat was only matched — and then beaten — by the legendary Pocket Power, the horse that won the J&B Met in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Since J&B began sponsoring the event 39 years ago, it has grown tremendously and evolved into something quite spectacular. With a stake of R2.5 million, the J&B Met is now the largest outdoor annual horeracing event in Cape Town. In 2002, for example, more than 50 000 spectators pitched up at the Kenilworth Racecourse on the day, forcing event organisers to close the gates and put up “house full” signs half way through the afternoon!

The horses may once have drawn modest crowds to the Kenilworth Racecourse, but it is the grand spectacle, the opportunity to rub shoulders with the country’s rich and famous, and the promise of a day packed full of entertainment that bring tens of thousands of South Africans back to the J&B Met each year.

The life of a racehorse

Every year some of the best horses in the country compete in Cape Town’s J&B Met. Some of them, such as Pocket Power (J&B Met winner 2007, 2008, 2009), become legends that capture the public’s collective imagination. But what happens to horses such as Pocket Power when they retire? Trainer Candice Robinson tells you more about the life of a racehorse.

We buy horses — called yearlings — at the sale when they are a year old. Cape Town is by far the best breeding area in the country. As a trainer, there are certainly qualities that you look out for when you are at the sale. There are about 500 horses in the catalogue and you have to choose 10 and hope that they will be able to win you a race such as the J&B Met one day. For example, we would look at the general confirmation of the horse, which is made up of many factors, and then the legs — whether they are straight and correct — and then how a horse walks and uses himself, which is an indication as to how they will move on the track. Those are the basic factors, but you only really know about these things if you are in the industry.

After the sale, the horses return to the farm and then they come to our training centre at about two years of age. They all turn two in August, and around about September or October they come into the yard to start training.

Not all horses race at two years of age, but they probably start racing in April, May or June of the following year. Some of them can take up to a year before they start their careers — it all just depends on the horse. Some horses are fast and early, so you can race them early on in their careers. Others, usually those that go over longer distances, may take more time. Or a horse might be immature and then it will need time to mature before it is ready to race. So, they are all different. Some horses, those that take much longer to come to hand, will only be ready to race when they are three.

As a trainer, you will take a horse through its career. On average, a horse will probably have a career until they are about four or five years of age. You do get some, though, that will race until they are six or seven years of age.

Most of your fillies finish racing at five years of age and then the better bred fillies will go to stud and they will be used for breeding. The geldings — like Pocket Power who won the J&B Met three years in a row — generally end up in show jumping, dressage or eventing once they have finished racing. And then, obviously, you get the odd ones that are good enough that haven’t been gelded that will perhaps make a stallion, but they are few and far between.

Tips for men who put fashion first at the J&B Met

Fashion designer Wayne Govender offers his tips on how fashion-forward men can hook a winning look at the annual J&B Met, the most glamorous horse racing event on Cape Town’s calendar.

Horse racing and couture have always been a great mix and men’s fashion at the J&B Met is way more daring and exciting than compared to other great race days like, for example, polo events or the Queens Plate cup, which are more classic and conservative. So when dressing for the Met, men tend to shrug off boundaries and want to make a splash with what they pick to rock up in.

At the J&B Met, we are lucky to witness some of this country’s top menswear brands, like CSquared, Viyella and Carducci, as well as a host of very talented up and coming newbies.

If you’re heading to the Met and hoping to make a favourable and lasting impact, remember that a winning ensemble consists of your chosen look that captures the theme correctly, with a twist to make it your own personal style. Go for something that draws the right kind of attention to you, something that you can wear from day to night, from event to event afterparty, and still look ultra chic.

Go with what works for you, and that includes planning and investing in your look. A great style statement at the Met could cost absolutely nothing if you are really clever, all the way up to maxing out your credit card if you’re feeling splashy. Whatever you do, do not copycat an outfit from any famous international designers, do not show up in casual attire — save that for the beach — and never wear a bad attitude to the races!

Also, don’t forget the sunblock – lots of it – and a hot date as arm candy of course!