One of racing’s great characters Raymond Deacon recalled yesterday the moment ten years ago he believed his Glen Kotzen-trained horse Big City Life was going to win the Vodacom Durban July and described a feeling of being in a dream bubble as he charged like a rugby player through a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd for the winner’s enclosure.
His wife Paula turned to daughter Lois and said, “What’s Dad doing, what’s happening?!”
Lois replied, “I think we’ve just won the July!”
Big City life had come into the July off the back of victories in the KRA Guineas and the Daily News 2000, having also won the Investec Cape Derby on J&B Met day.
Raymond described the build-up of “unbelievable pressure” as a seemingly unattainable dream came within grasping distance.
He recalled, “It suddenly all gets released, I can’t think of a better drug, it is just an amazing release of joy. It is probably why we still do our pensions on this game. I could hardly see the horses through the crowd as they went past, but earlier when he hit the front I felt almost as if the script had already been written and there was no way he could lose. I have never had a feeling like it. It all happened in slow motion, I can’t remember any noise, it was like being in a dream where you knew the end result.”
Raymond always watches races at Greyville from the bottom step of the grandstand opposite the finish line as this was where his late father Maynard watched from.
He reckoned he reached the short distance to the winner’s enclosure almost before Big City Life had crossed the line and was thankful Gold Circle’s media relations manager Gill Mostert (nee Simpkins) was on hand to tell some irate members of the public he had just won the July. Their irritation turned to cheers and they helped him over the winner’s enclosure railings.
Raymond said, “I would have looked a right royal idiot if he had not won, we often joke about it, although I would also have been happy with second.”
The memory of the victory is ever present in the Deacon home through a painting and all sorts of memorabilia.
Raymond said, “The only thing I haven’t got from that day is my phone!”
He lost his cellphone during the mayhem that followed the win so was unable to field the myriad of congratulatory messages.
One thing which struck Raymond later was, for the only time in his on-course ownership career, he did not lead his winner in.
He recalled, “I was too busy hugging Frikkie (Greyling – assistant trainer at the time to Glen Kotzen) and the groom.”
Upon receiving the winner’s sash Raymond entertained the crowd with an impromptu dance.
He said, “I don’t even remember doing it but have seen the footage and hope I am capable of dancing better than that! It is hard to explain but the emotion grabbed me and it just felt right.”
He also remembers, upon leaving the winner’s enclosure, a punter grabbing him and throwing him in the air. It was the excited man’s way of thanking Raymond as he had just won the July quartet, which paid a massive amount because 11/2 chance Big City Life was followed home by 55/1, 100/1 and 70/1 shots respectively.
Raymond continued, “One of my best recollections of the day was when Patrick Loker and Gill took us through to the Classic Room and showed us Big City Life’s colours displayed on the wall alongside all the other famous silks which have won the race. That’s when I knew it wasn’t a dream and had really happened.”
Raymond inherited the purple and white colours from his father.
The Chairman’s Dinner, a traditional function in those days on the Monday evening after the July, was also memorable and Raymond said he definitely felt the presence of his father that night.
He said, “It was a glamorous, old fashioned occasion and that is the way my Dad used to race, in a formal suit for every meeting. They also had a band come and sing the popular hit song after which Big City Life was named which was special and so were the 400 drinks, everybody wanted to buy us a drink!”
One of the joint-owners was Raymond’s cousin Glen Mitchell. As youngsters they used to sneak on to the course at Clairwood and help Raymond’s grandfather Reg Deacon in his role as the numbers board operator.
The Big City Life story is of course tinged with sadness.
He brought more joy by finishing third in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate and then winning the Rising Sun Gold Challenge at Clairwood.
However, after the latter race he pulled a tendon during a workout at Summerveld.
He was laid off for almost a year but was able to line up for the 2011 July. He finished a gallant sixth but took a bad step after the line and broke down.
He had to be euthanased on course.
Raymond said, “That memory is why July day is never a good day for me, I will find it hard to go to the July unless I have a runner, so instead watch it on TV.”
Big City Life’s place of honour at Summerveld is kept neat and tidy by the connections and visited perennially.
Raymond said, “He will never be out of our lives and before this year’s July we will visit his grave with Glen and have a glass of champagne.”
Raymond is planning a big July function at his holiday cottage in Port Edward for this year’s big race and said, “It is a hot field, wow, but the only thing that matters to me is they all come home safely.”
He concluded, “Even if The Sheik wins he will be excited!”
By David Thiselton
Image: Raymond Deacon wears the blue Vodacom Durban July sash in the winner’s enclosure after his horse Big City Life had won the country’s premier race in 2009. He will be supporting the Glen Kotzen-trained Eyes Wide Open in this year’s race and any horse Big City Life’s July-winning jockey Greg Cheyne rides.
Photographer: John Lewis