All roads lead to Durban July

After two years in the stalls, Africa’s premier horse racing event, the Hollywoodbets Durban July (HDJ) reignites at 2pm today with a R5 million carrot up for grabs and tills singing as visitors flock to Durban.

Festivities are in full swing with perfect weather on the cards and fashion, food, music, and celebrities primed to perfection for race day activities.

Yesterday several beaches were reopened after the latest tests showed the water was safe and preparations for side events and after-parties were underway. The opened beaches are eManzimtoti, Warner, uMgababa, uMhlanga Rocks, eMdloti, Addington, Bronze, Bay of Plenty, Wedge, North, Country Club, uShaka, Battery, Southern, and Vetch’s Pier (Point).

Since 1897, Greyville racecourse has been home to the July, although the past two years have been online and closed to the public because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Twelve races will take place on the emerald green turf today, race seven being the main event of the day with 18 horses vying for the big prize.

Chief stipendiary steward of the National Horseracing Association in KZN, Ryan Hutchinson, says up to 150 horses will be there because each horse can only race once, but the jockeys can participate in as many races as they want.

A sea of hospitality marquees has been erected on the sidelines of the racecourse and ticket prices vary from the most basic entry fee of R250 to tens of thousands, depending on your choice of package for the day.

Durban Tourism’s Roshni Mehta said initially they expected 25 000 people to attend the Hollywoodbets Durban July, but after the last Covid regulations were lifted, that figure swelled to 35 000.

This, she said, was in addition to family and friends who would come to the city just for fun.

Still reeling from Covid-19 and then floods which caused huge infrastructure damage in the municipality earlier this year, tourism officials are banking on this weekend to spearhead a revival in the sector.

Mehta said tickets sales would remain open today and a last-minute rush was expected.

She said it was predicted that the July would create 1 000 jobs for the weekend and would contribute R362 million to the municipality’s GDP. Direct spend at the horse-racing event was expected to reach R142m, she said.

By Thursday evening hotels in uMhlanga were already fully booked while B&Bs, lodges, and guest-houses throughout the city had a 60% occupancy rate.

Mehta said the events were not limited to Durban or the suburbs but several townships were part of the festivities as well.

“People who don’t want to come to the main event can go to the townships which will be contributing to the main event through satellite tote offices.”

She said food, beverages, and big screens would ensure that those not at the racecourse would still have the full July experience.

The pre-Hollywoodbets Durban July events began on Thursday when visitors started arriving in the province.

This year’s fashion theme is “Show me the Honey” and many guests are also in Durban to show off the money.

Businessman Lunga Sokhela’s Signature Soiree marquee offers guests an opulent experience.

Starting at R6 500 a ticket, those who choose to watch the races in splendour can expect various luxuries like all-day gourmet catering, a sushi bar, cognac bar, cigar lounge, masseur facilities, personal waitress and butler services, classy decor, live entertainment and a full concierge service.

Sokhela said he had about 300 VIP guests which include VIPs from the top JSE-listed companies and high-ranking government officials.

“It’s really centred on business meeting pleasure. The idea is that post the July there must be conversations that will lead to some business and projects being rolled out, especially within our province,” says Sokhela.

He said while the other marquees would focus on entertainment, his clientele would have the opportunity to form business ties.

Through this bespoke event, Sokhela said he wanted to generate interest and investment in KwaZulu-Natal.

His Signature Soiree weekend kicked off with a red carpet welcome for A-listers at the newly opened five-star Radisson Blu Hotel yesterday, ready for an opulent day at the races today and a breakfast event tomorrow.

“So it will give people a chance to get to know each other and get into in-depth conversations before leaving. It’s the beginning of something we want to build on for years,” says Sokhela.

While the lifting of Covid restrictions meant some people had little time to plan their outfits, South Africa’s most celebrated designers were headlining the fashion show at Greyville.

Sandile Duke Mngadi, Leigh Schubert, Zama Mathe, Kathrin Kidger, Karen Monk-Klijnstra and Lara Klawikowsk will display their interpretation of the theme.

Ten aspiring designers will also get a chance to show off and win big with their creations in the Hollywoodbets Durban July Young Designer Award competition.

Metro police spokesman Boysie Zungu said the roads in the immediate vicinity of the racecourse were cordoned off last night and would remain closed until after the event.

He said the affected areas included Avondale Road, DLI Avenue, Mitchell Crescent, 5th and 6th Avenue and Clarence Road.

Zungu advised people to use alternative routes to avoid delays.

He said metro police would be deployed throughout the municipality to ensure that visitors were safe. Roadblocks would be set up to prevent drunk driving, specially around areas where the after-parties will be held like Florida Road in Durban, as well as uMlazi and Kwamashu.

Weather forecaster Mbazhi Maliage said the mercury would climb to 24ºC today with some wind in the afternoon.

Tomorrow the festive weather conditions will continue with a maximum of 26ºC and no wind expected.

As Buddy Holly sang: “The sun is out, the sky is blue. There’s not a cloud to spoil the view…”.

-The Independent on Saturday

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