Durban – The 126th edition of the Hollywoodbets Durban July has created a buzz in racing, fashion and social circles as Africa's Greatest Horseracing Event prepares to celebrate its return to racing in front of packed stands and marquees at Hollywoodbets Greyville Racecourse on Saturday 2 July.
After two years of the iconic horserace being behind-closed-doors, the recent lifting of pandemic regulations has opened the door for racing fans, fashion lovers and socialites to return to the popular event.
The response has been brisk from across the country and ticket sales have gathered momentum, hinting at a crowd of over 35 000 converging for the landmark occasion, which is poised to see the famous event enter a new phase in its 126 year history.
Under the new title sponsor the increased purse of R5 million makes it the richest Grade One race on the continent, and it will be followed by racing fans around the globe when it gets under way at 4pm in what is forecast to be superb mid-winter Durban weather.
The field is loaded with former winners, with the popular 2021 champion Kommetdieding meeting double winner Do It Again and another July champion Belgarion, in what promises to be a compelling contest over 2 200m.
Punters have turned to Safe Passage, Linebacker, Pomp And Power, Sparkling Water and Aragosta in recent weeks, setting the stage for a thrilling encounter of thoroughbred champions in Race 7.
Every punter has unique tools to help them tip the new champion. The annual tradition of planting beans for each runner named in the final field at the Gold Circle offices, has produced tips that align markedly with the punters' predictions.
In the week of the race the bean planted for Pomp And Power grew a clear length above the rest of the field, followed by two-times-winner Do It Again, then Linebacker and another former champion, Belgarion.
On-course, the Marquee Village, the grandstands, picnic sites and the many plush suites will be a hive of activity as July fans soak up the atmosphere they have missed for two years.
The day will be staged against the raceday theme "Show Me The Honey", which will influence every aspect of the day's activities, from the hospitality décor to the signature raceday fashion programme.
As competitive as the thrilling dice to the finish post at 4pm will be, the serious fashionistas will line up for the first round of judging in the four raceday fashion competitions at midday, hoping to win through to the finals and claim one of the many attractive prizes on offer.
In between the day's races, the winners of the Hollywoodbets Durban July Young Designer Award, presented by Durban Fashion Fair, will be announced, following a showing on the new fashion stage in front of the main grandstand of the top ten designs from student designers, from colleges across the province.
With R100 000 at stake in bursary support from the Hollywood Foundation, there will be a nervous buzz backstage as the MC announces the names of the top three students, all eager to follow in the footsteps of the many luminary names that kick-started their careers by winning this competition.
Fashion fanatics will buzz around the same stage at 14:45 when the six icons of the fashion industry, Zama Mathe, Kathrin Kidger, Sandile "Duke" Mngadi, Lara Klawikowski, Karen Monk Klijnstra and Leigh Schubert present their raceday ensembles in the Hollywoodbets Durban July Invited Designer Showcase, presented by Durban Fashion Fair.
Each of the marquees has a star-studded line-up of entertainers secured to keep the buzz going throughout the day, with the infield public stage offering a rolling series of performers by well-known local DJs and artists, held together by MC Felix Hlope.
Ticket sales continue to be brisk in the build-up to the big day, and with the lifting of crowd restrictions and the requirement to present vaccinations certificates, the organisers will be selling tickets on the day from Gate 9, Gate 15 and from the Boomtown hospitality venue.