As the lovely chestnut Pomodoro, ridden by Piere Strydom, surged to glory in this year’s Vodacom Durban July, beating Smanjemanje by a nose, the capacity crowd erupted.
Tension had been mounting all afternoon as punters staked their all on horses that “just couldn’t lose”, but there will be many empty pockets after the hot favourite, Jackson, was dramatically de-throned.
For some, losing on their “sure thing” is taken in their stride but others gave voice to their anguish in fairly spectacular fashion. One over-excited, and perhaps over-libated, racegoer was seen hurling his clothing into the air as his horse fell far behind, and then stamping on it, to the amusement of bystanders.
By all accounts the majority of those betting yesterday were being a little more cautious than in previous years. The effects of the recession were also seen in the outfits worn by many of the women, which were a far cry from the flambouyant excess that often characterises the event.
Hosts might have had to trim their budgets a little, but most still put on a memorable celebration for their clients, assorted celebrities and friends. There appeared to be more, and bigger marquees than ever, and some stood head and shoulders above the herd.
Of particular note was the Nampak hospitality suite, with the theme “Vintage Footprint”.
No detail had been left to chance and guests wined and dined way into the night in an olde worlde ambience decorated with faux chinoiserie chairs, antique mirrors and groaning crystal bowls filled with heritage roses, to the strains of a Hungarian violinist.
By contrast to this gorgeous excess, the Nedbank marquee, with its plain plywood fencing, indigenous plantings and reed table centrepieces, while eco-friendly, was a tad utilitarian.
In the Magic Pan tent, guests passed displays of larger-than-life magic mushrooms as they made their way into a dimly-illuminated, mysterious interior draped in luxe purple velvet.
The marquees are where the party animals display their glad rags and boogie like there is no tomorrow.
Sadly, some of the faces we have grown used to expecting were conspicuous by their absence, and we searched in vain for some of our favourite A-listers. Where on earth were they? What party could be bigger than the July?
The Vodacom Paddock, traditionally favoured by the business and political elite, also didn’t exert as much pull as in years gone by.
Apart from a few Blue Bulls players, the ever-smiling Miss South Africa Melinda Bam and her princess, Remona Moodley, and media personalities Claire Mawisa and Azania Mosaka, the vibe simply wasn’t as powerful as it used to be.
We did, however, spot Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe with his always impeccably dressed wife, Bridget, and Premier Dr Zweli Mkhize.
Talk was that they were on their way to the Sibaya Casino marquee. Invites are like hens’ teeth, and if you score one, you know you’ve arrived.
Performances by popular group Black Coffee and other artists got the bigwigs shaking their booty, and a rip-roaring good time was had by all.
At the MTV Base Lifestyle Oasis Village, we once again had to search to spot any famous faces, but eventually spied East Coast Radio’s Zaba Simbine at the Durban Tourism marquee in a fetching teal dress by Sibu Msimang.
The SABC marquee had the most celebrities in attendance, from Isidingo actors Jay Anstey, Tema Sebopedi, Ashish Gangapersad and Kgomotso Christopher to Top Billing’s Simba Mhere and Jeannie D and Expresso’s Katlego Maboe.
David Tlale and stunning former Face of Africa winner Noni Gasa co-hosted a fashion commentary show alongside Jeannie D.
Guests were treated to foot and back massages, which had SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago rushing to the massage section.
Even singer Theo Kgosinkwe was complaining about back pain, in the hope of getting some sympathetic ministrations from the pretty masseuses.
While Durban designers have, in the past, snared the lion’s share of awards in the fashion stakes, this year they were evenly spread between locals and designers from other provinces.
Many will have woken this morning with glowing memories of the July; a few will be kicking themselves for losing money or getting up to antics they would rather forget; and a handful, like the hapless woman who had to be hoisted over her partner’s shoulders and carted away at midday, might not remember much at all.
But one thing is certain: there’s no place to party like the Durban July. Cheers! - Sunday Tribune