One of the biggest horseracing festivals in the world that features 36 graded races including 13 at the highest Grade 1 level in a comprehensive three-month programme, is set to get underway at the Theatre of Champions in Durban on Friday, May 4.
Gold Circle’s Champions Season, that has been staged annually for decades, is built around Africa’s greatest horseracing event, the Grade 1 Vodacom Durban July, and brings together for a feast of outstanding racing the best thoroughbreds in the country that compete in a specially planned programme of events designed to cater for all racing needs. It is the racing Olympics of South Africa.
Now, as the Highveld season draws to a close, things are warming up in KwaZulu-Natal with a few Grade 3 and Listed races at Greyville and Scottsville before the three-year-olds get the Champions Season ball rolling in the Grade 2 Guineas and Grade 2 Fillies Guineas under the Daisy banner. Independent Newspapers, one of the major sponsors of racing in the province, helps to launch Champions Season with the traditional season opener, the Grade 2 Independent on Saturday Drill Hall Stakes over 1 400m.
With feature race stakes just a few pennies short of R30-million up for grabs, Gold Circle’s Champions Season brings together the best thoroughbreds in the country in search of the ultimate accolades and honours including the blue ribbon of the continent’s racing, the R4.25-million Vodacom Durban July. Trainers from around the country have moved horses into stabling in the Durban area with others making special plans to float runners to Durban or Pietermaritzburg for specific events.
The festival is among the most comprehensive in the world in the variety of its programme of events that cater for all age groups and categories of thoroughbreds and includes the ultimate challenges in the country for three-year-olds and particularly the juveniles that face grade-level tests from 1 200m through to the mile in three major race days.
The Tsogo Sun Sprint racemeeting at Scottsville late in May is unique in staging four Grade 1 sprint events over 1 200m headed by the R1-million merit rated handicap, the Tsogo Sun Sprint. The SA Fillies Sprint caters for the ladies and the juveniles face their first major test in the Tsogo Sun Gold Medallion and Allan Robertson Championship.
Although there are top-class events every weekend throughout the three-month period, Champions Season has four major race dates that are packed with the most competitive racing seen in the country. After the speedsters have done their dash at Scottsville on Tsogo Sun Sprint Day, the three-year-olds are the next to step up to the plate in the country’s two premier middle distance level weights clashes, the R2-million, Grade 1 Daily News 2000 and the R1-million, Grade 1 Woolavington 2000.
From these races have come many champions and “July” contenders and even winners and because all the country’s best of the age group meet – many for the first time – at level weights, the winners of the races are considered the best of their age in the land.
With the ultimate focus of the season being on the first Saturday in July, the R1-million, Grade 1 Rising Sun Gold Challenge over a mile and the Grade 3 Cup Trial over 1 800m offer Vodacom Durban July hopefuls a final opportunity to earn a place in the big race final field. For the purists so intent on pushing the weight-for-age agenda as a status priority for major races, the Rising Sun Gold Challenge will make them happy.
Vodacom Durban July Day on July 7 will again confirm its status as Africa’s Greatest Horseracing Event with a sell-out crowd and a betting bonanza that relatively compares with those of major events around the world. The big race itself, carrying a stake of R4.25-million, is an institution, a part of South Africa’s DNA enjoying international status as one of the racing world’s iconic events.
Here again the weight-for-age, Grade 1 Jonsson Workwear Garden Province Stakes over 1 600m is one of, if not the most, prestigious race for fillies and mares in the country. It heads the supporting programme for the day that includes the second leg of the juvenile graded programme, the Durban Golden Horseshoe and the Golden Slipper, Grade 2 events over 1 400m that take the young horses up to the next level.
Then, for the next three weeks racegoers have the opportunity to come down from cloud nine for a short while and prepare themselves for the grand finale Festival of Racing, Super Saturday at Greyville on July 28.
This meeting, that stages Africa’s most famous marathon event the 3 200m R1.25-million, eLAN Gold Cup, boasts no less than four Grade 1 races over distances from 1 200m to 1 800m. Under the weight-for-age classification both the Grade 1 Mercury Sprint and Grade 1 World Sports Betting Champions Cup are iconic events with very famous histories and records that show they have been won by some of the greatest thoroughbreds to race in this country.
In addition, the appearance of the juveniles over 1 600m is exciting for the racing community in particular and racing in general as they usually reveal potential champion material of the future. They take to the track in the Premiers Champion Stakes and the Thekwini Stakes, each race carrying Grade 1 status and stakes of R750 000.
In all, Champions Season 2018 will again promise racing enthusiasts, regular and occasional racegoers, and punters in general, an eventful, entertaining and exciting festival of thoroughbred racing that stands alone in stature and confirms KwaZulu-Natal as the racing capital of South Africa.