Horses / Horse News
Racing is generally well-removed from great global events and the political tides that determine our fate.
But, just sometimes, it gallops onto the main stage. Such was the case in December 1895, as Cecil John Rhodes was cooking up an insurrection against the Transvaal government of President Paul Kruger.
The mining magnate and colonial intriguer, along with sidekick Leander Starr Jameson, hatched a plot for Johannesburg’s gold prospectors to annex their diggings from Oom Paul’s Pretoria-based Boer government.
The “Uitlanders” – fortune seekers from all over the world – camped on the Witwatersrand’s newly discovered goldfields and figured they could do without the grumpy, cliquey, levy-imposing, tax-guzzling government situated a few kilometres down the Jukskei River. (This sounds a bit familiar, but we’ll move on.)
Rhodes put Jameson in charge of a force of his private “police” with the idea that they would ride into town like well-armed avenging angels, inspire a popular uprising and show Kruger who was in charge in Johannesburg.
The raid was codenamed Polo Tournament. But another horse event got in the way – the Summer Cup, then known as the Johannesburg Handicap and already a highlight on the racing and social calendar of the city.
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When someone twigged that Jameson’s planned arrival on 28 December clashed with race day at Turffontein and would spoil the festivities, Rhodes’s brother Frank sent a message to the okes in the sticks: “Tell Dr Jameson the Polo Tournament is postponed here for one week as it would clash with Race Week.”
The delay proved disastrous for the plot. The Boer government got wind of it and headed off the invading party at the pass – or somewhere south of present-day Gold Reef City, not very far from Turffontein.
Jameson and his desperadoes were banged up. And the lovely day at the races, in the ennui of a warm summer, appeared to have dissipated Joburg residents’ seething resentment against the government. A horse called Languid won the big race.
It’s unlikely anyone will disrupt proceedings at the Big T on Saturday by galloping in, shooting and hollering revolution, though it wouldn’t be entirely surprising in the current loopy political climate. (Next week, though?)
If one believes in horses’ names holding portent, you might conjure something from the favourite for the 2020 running, Summer Pudding, or second-favourite Pack Leader.
Apart from the R1 million Cup itself, there are five highly excellent features on the card, including the venerable Dingaans for precocious three year olds, the Merchants for top sprinters and the long-distance RA Handicap.
The pick 6 pool is likely to top R20 million and the big-race Quartet will have R7 million for distribution.
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