10 fun facts about Cape Town’s top horserace: the J&B Met

Can’t wait for the J&B Met? We’ve collected a few fascinating facts about the oldest horse race in the country (you see — fun fact right there) to get you pumped for the big day. These totally random facts might just be the conversation starter you’re looking for…

1. The oldest horse race in the country, the Metropolitan Mile, was originally run on the Green Point Common. The jockeys were English soldiers attached to the Cape Garrison.

2. Only one horse has won the J&B Met three years in a row. Pocket Power, trained by Mike Bass, won the J&B Met in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Prior to that, the record was held by Politician, a horse trained by Syd Laird that won the J&B Met in 1978 and 1979.

3. Kenilworth Racecourse, where the J&B Met is run, is unique in that it has three racetracks that all finish in front of the grandstands with one pull-up area. The racecourse is also situated on a 52-hectare nature reserve that is home to the most preserved section of Cape Flats Sand Fynbos in the world and hundreds of fauna species, including 20 on the endangered list.

4. The event has been postponed twice — once in 1986 due to equine flu, and once in 2004 as a result of African Horse Sickness.

5. J&B has been sponsoring the J&B Met since 1977. At first glance, 39 years may not seem like all that much, but this is actually the longest running sports sponsorship in the world!

6. The J&B Met packs quite an economic punch. Wesgro, the official destination marketing, investment and trade promotion agency for the Western Cape, estimated that the economic impact of the 2013 J&B Met for the City of Cape Town and the region was a whopping R68 million.

7. Over 300 different stores in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban get involved in promotional displays for the J&B Met. The event gives the South African fashion industry a big boost in what is traditionally one of its quietest months. Many South African designers dedicate entire ranges to the J&B Met.

8. Every Met Day each of the grooms at the Kenilworth Racecourse is given a special J&B Met overall, which is worn with pride for the rest of the year.

9. The numbers are superlative: the J&B Met attracts up to 50 000 guests, who arrive in approximately 20 000 vehicles. The J&B Met Hospitality Village provides over 2 500 guests with lunch and dinner.

10. In 2002, the gates were closed halfway through the afternoon and ‘house full’ signs were put up because no more people could safely be admitted to the venue.

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: 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.