The curse of load shedding struck and brought a cruel end to a glorious day of horse racing at the Hollywoodbets Durban July, after a fairytale win for Winchester Mansion in the feature race on Saturday.
Darkness descended on the Hollywoodbets Greyville racecourse around 6pm as the organisers were preparing to send the 10th race on its way.
At that time, load shedding kicked in despite a prior agreement that the Durban City Council would exempt the event so that horse racing would continue uninterrupted to the end of the 12-race card.
As it turned out, the last three races were abandoned, even though the lights were switched on again later. However, in the absence of guarantees that the lights would remain on, the jockeys raised safety concerns and the racing was called off.
Two hours earlier on Saturday, a near-capacity crowd of 48 000 roared with delight as the day’s racing reached a climax as the gelding Winchester Mansion inched home to clinch the honours in Africa's greatest horseracing event.
Winchester Mansion, with odds of 8-1, finished like a true champion over 2200m to win the 2023 R5 million Gr1 Hollywoodbets Durban July. It was the 127th edition of the classic, which has been staged uninterrupted since 1897.
It was a close call for Winchester Mansion, who prevailed by a head from the 4-1 favourite See It Again. The two had raced clear of the field in the closing stages, and the third-placed three-year-old filly Bless My Stars, a 35-1 outsider, was some three lengths behind.
In fourth place was two-time winner Do It Again (22-1), who has now placed in all six Julys that he ran in.
A race review was conducted immediately after the finish, but there were no changes to the result.
Victory aboard Winchester Mansion, by 0.25 lengths, was a monumental achievement for jockey Kabelo Matsunyane who held out at the death against the race's most experienced jockey and four-time Durban July winner, veteran rider Piere Strydom.
Matsunyane, fresh from the ranks of the SA Jockey Academy in KZN, is only the second black jockey after S’Manga 'Bling' Khumalo to win the prestigious Hollywoodbets Durban July. Khumalo was in the irons when the filly Sparkling Water handed the boys a hiding last year.
Winchester Mansion is trained by Brett and James Crawford, of Crawford Racing. The owner is the wife of renowned businessman Johann Rupert, Gaynor Rupert, who owns Drakenstein Stud in Franschhoek. In recent years, the Drakenstein Stud has produced some outstanding runners such as Jet Dark, Safe Passage and Rain In Holland.
Winchester Mansion, named after an iconic hotel in Sea Point on the Atlantic Seaboard, has now won five races with seven places from 15 starts, and his stakes earnings stand at R3 504 100.
No wonder Gaynor Rupert greeted her latest success with an outcry: "It's a season from heaven."