If the Vodacom Durban July has a parallel on the world stage then it must be the Melbourne Cup. As author Les Carlyon wrote, the “Cup mocks good order because it’s a handicap. This gets rid of the preordained factor: just about any runner can win. It’s the best sporting idea anyone has ever had in this town.”
Like the Cup, the July is a cross between a horse race, a fashion parade and a folk festival. For racing people, the July is the high point of the calendar. Ask anyone intermittently involved which race they most want to win; it will always be the July.
It also has a lot to do with the fact that the public is allowed to join in for the crowd scenes.
It starts early with a fashion parade of outfits that normal people would not be seen dead in. The classier outfits are scattered among the crowd, the more daring hoping to make it onto television or the front page of the Sunday press.
Those in for the party and corporate invitees, mostly inhabit the infield tent town where they may or may not see a horse in the flesh for the entire day.
Picnic sites start out jealously guarded, each with their own space, but by the time the sun sets as the day races into the dark, the boundaries are blurred and the free-for-alls begin, often resulting in a few pugilistic contests with security playing referee.
Those that inhabit the grandstand are there for the horses. Often accosting trainers and jockeys for tips, they revel in the once-a-year opportunity of viewing many of the county’s best horses in the flesh and hopefully cashing in on inflated betting pools with their ‘inside information’.
On your way home, the trek to your car in the infield parking is an experience in itself. Booming music, as one marquee DJ tries to drown out his neighbour, is deafening as you step over bottles, broken glass and bodies at the same time sidestepping revellers way over the limit of the ‘blaas orkes’ awaiting them outside should they dare get behind the wheel. The words of Hunter S Thompson in his classic piece, ‘The Kentucky Derby is decadent and depraved’, coming to mind.
And the racing die-hards – they mostly hate July day.
By Andrew Harrison