Durban - When Anita Akal takes her camera to work on Saturday, it will mark the 40th year that she has taken pictures at the finishing line of the Vodacom Durban July, previously know as the July Handicap.
And she will be just as excited when the horses head out to the start as she was in her previous 39 years.
Having covered every race at Greyville, at Clairwood and at Scottsville in Pietermaritz-burg for 40 years, she says there is nothing quite like being at the finishing post to capture the winners of Africa’s premier horse racing event.
“I absolutely love it. I love the people and the whole vibe,” said Akal, the course photographer, who takes pictures for the owners, trainers and jockeys, and for magazines.
“I do get nerves before the race: when the horses go to the start and you see them enter the starting stalls on TV. You can feel the adrenaline rush and my heart starts beating fast and my hands start to sweat.”
With the aid of her zoom lens, she captures the winners as they fly past, and also photographs the winner as the horse is led into the horseshoe enclosure and when it gets its sash and does a lap of honour.
Akal began taking racing photographs for friends after re-locating to Durban from Johannesburg.
That was back in the days of black-and-white photography.
Then the Greyville horse racing authorities asked her to take colour photographs for them, and she remembers saying that she would “give it a go”.
Her photographs are on display at all the race courses – and in 80 percent of the hospitality suites at Greyville – and some 40 of her pictures grace the walls of the Oyster Box Hotel’s special Durban July function room.
Akal’s husband, Ronald, owned race horses with partners for decades, and she recalls him having a runner, Versailles, in the 1976 Durban July.
“It was a real outsider and the trainer did not even want him to take part. When Versailles suddenly flew past me in second position, I was so excited, I dropped my camera and did not get the shot,” she grinned.
Over the years, Akal has seen all the big names – the trainers, the owners and the horses – and was the official photographer when Queen Elizabeth II visited Greyville race course.
“I think that was the only year I wore a hat,” she said.
While thousands of women race-goers are still debating what to wear on Saturday, Akal knows that she will be wearing something practical – along with a photographer’s bib.
“I will start work at 9.15am photographing the fashion and work until 8.30pm, so I have to be comfortable.” - Daily News