Cape Town - Some go for the excuse to dress dashingly, and some go to be seen schmoozing with celebrities. Some even go for the horseracing. Whatever drew 40 000 people to the J&B Met on Saturday, it left many saying it was the best in years.

The 12 races had punters, bookies and the racing fraternity on the edges of their seats, while the cameras kept fashionistas and socialites on their well-manicured toes.

The total betting spend went up from R33 million last year to R38m this year, with a record “pick six” pool of R8.6m.

Divas and designers were also in the money with R98 000 worth of prizes for the Most Elegant Couple competition.

Inside the VIP tent guests were spoilt with alcoholic ice lollies and enough whiskey to start several parties. Creature comforts were complimentary massages and a makeup touch-up salon, which helped to keep faces fresh and feet squeezed into stilettos well into the evening.

Eddy Cassar, publicist for the J&B Met, said

: “People are telling us it’s one of the best Mets in the last five years. There is no doubt that the Cape Town public embraces the Met as a fashion event.”

He said the main race caught the crowd off-guard as only one of the favourites, Yorker, placed in the top four.

But Clyde Basel, marketing and sales executive for Phumelela Gaming and former chief of the Racing Association, said Hill Fifty Four’s win was not unexpected. The five-year-old may not have been the crowd favourite, but he placed second last year and was ripe for a win. Basel said jockey Anton Marcus rode a very tactical race. He placed Hill Fifty Four in front early on, then eased off towards the outside of the track.

“The jockey felt that his horse doesn’t run well when close to others. He started drifting to the outside and had a bit of a breather. Then he pulled away to win a very convincing race.”

Basel said fancied horses Master Of My Fate and Jackson were disappointing.

“I thought Master Of My Fate would be the one to beat, but it may have been too much for him on the day,” Basel said. “Punta Arenas was most surprising – not many people thought he would place.”

Yorker came second, with Punta Arenas and Whiteline Fever coming third and fourth respectively.

Hill Fifty Four’s owners, Markus and Ingrid Jooste, had a bumper Met. Aside from their win, horses they own shares in also placed second and fourth.

Their racing manager Derek Brugman said it was an ecstatic moment to come first after two years of having horses placed second. “We’d been the bridesmaid on a number of occasions, so it was nice to move up to being the bride,” he said.

“Everybody’s still on cloud nine.”

Brugman said the Joostes didn’t bet on their horses.

“Mr Jooste doesn’t get involved in betting. It’s a big enough bet when you spend millions buying horses.”

Horses sell for up to R4m, and training costs amount to R7 000 a month.

The prize money for the J&B Met is R2.5m, but according to Brugman, that’s not the greatest motivation for horse owners.

“Wealthy people will tell you it’s not about the prize money,” he said. “It’s about the prestige that money can’t buy.”

Hill Fifty Four was not bought at a yearling sale, but bred at the owners’ stud farm. From then on, he was in trainer Vaughan Marshall’s hands.

Marshall said his winning horse had a rocky road since last year’s Met. He picked up a virus and bled into his respiratory tract during a Durban race. He had to rest for months, and only raced again in November.

“He’s a fierce competitor and always has been. He’s shown unbelievable guts and determination,” Marshall said.

While jockey Anton Marcus said he didn’t know he would win until he crossed the finish line, Marshall knew “the day before”.

“Everything pointed to a win,” he said. “Hill Fifty Four was nice and relaxed when we put the saddle on him, he didn’t sweat up.”


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Cape Argus