The return of a colourful and festive crowd to the Cape Town Met at Kenilworth gave the South African racing industry a huge boost on Saturday.
Brilliant action matched the mood, with the hugely popular colt Kommetdieding winning the big race for humble, small-time owner Ashwin Reynolds and the tiny training yard of Harold Crawford and daughter Michelle Rix.
The victory completed a rare Durban July-Met double – achieved by just five horses in the past 50 years.
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A stunning performance by superstar filly Captain’s Ransom in the Grade 1 Majorca Stakes was another memorable moment.
A few thousand people were allowed onto the racecourse to watch the famous old race and the atmosphere was rowdy and infectious following the partial lifting of a lengthy Covid lockdown crowd ban – which has hammered the racing game financially and spiritually.
In elegant hospitality marquees, ladies in designer outfits and gents in loud shirts and jackets, transformed the venue, which had endured desolate empty grandstands for more than a year – including at last year’s Met, with its silent running for the first time since 1883.
Racing has recently been “relaunched’ with a new operator, a new TV channel and many new sponsors. The 2022 Met was, effectively, celebration of a rebirth.
A big cheer went up at the start of the first of the 12 races on the programme – a fillies’ contest won by Justin Snaith-trained Peut Etre Moi, brilliantly ridden by former champion jockey S’Manga Khumalo.
Excitement was added to proceedings with eight of the races being “World Pool” events on the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s international betting programme – which hosts the biggest commingled betting pools in the world and has live television coverage of the local action beamed around the globe.
Punters had a good start to the day, with well-backed horses winning the first five races. But there were upsets to come.
The Grade 3 Politician Stakes, Race 6, saw heavily fancied Pacaya (at odds of 10-7) finish unplaced and the honours going to 5-1 shot Universal, for Adam Marcus and Craig Zackey, ahead of Master Redoute (20-1).
A major upset came with a thrilling finish to the Grade 1 Cape Flying Championship. Joburg raider Bohica (20-1), from the Azzie stable with the irrepressible Khumalo whooping in the saddle, got a photo-finish decision ahead of African Rain (40-1), Mr Cobbs (40-1) and Rio Querari (5-3 favourite).
Superstar filly Captain’s Ransom and top jockey Richard Fourie had the crowd – and pundits – speechless with a breath-taking turn of hoof to grab the Grade 1 Majorca Stakes, overhauling Chansonette, who’d looked likely to win comfortably with 75m to go.
Trainer Snaith described his charge as “one in a million” and said he wished he could tell her “how much I love her and respect her as an athlete”.
Then there was Kommetdieding.