Durban to rollick to the races

AFTER a lucrative and successful World Cup, Durban is about to get a sumptuous second helping at partying.

This is of course, the Durban July Handicap. This irrepressible and buoyant horse racing and fashion festival takes place on Saturday July 31. The irreplaceable venue is as you will have guessed - the Greyville Racecourse.

Thousands of revellers are expected to descend on the warm city to attend this fashionable meeting.

Pageantry, fashion and style all meet in a glorious setting. Patrons and visitors vie to outdo each other on the most elegant, classic or outrageous outfits.

This year's theme is "It's a blooming great day". Organisers are expecting the bold, exciting and colourful when it comes to fashionistas. And, if the weather is your worry, relax, Durban boasts an average of 320 days of sunshine a year.

The July race is not only popular to South Africa's celebrities, business people and a throng of government officials, it is also South Africa's answer to the pomp and inane-hat-wearing splendour of Britain's Royal Ascot. The race is the city's most important tourist asset that attracts more than 50,000 people.

Horses that have made history at the July Handicap have gone on to international success. The legendary 1963 winner, Colorado King, set a world record of nine furlongs and won the Hollywood Gold Cup. In recent years London News, Ipi Tombe, and Greys Inn followed in those hoof-steps to win big overseas.

Greyville offers night racing, and hosts many other Grade 1 races during the Winter Season, including the Gold Cup.

Arguably the most picturesque track in South Africa, Greyville lies just below the ridge of Durban on the flat, so to speak, just outside the city centre. On its southern edge are the Botanical Gardens, while on its north it is flanked by Morningside.

Tourist attractions around Greyville abound. Not unlike the soccer World Cup, revellers who travel the world just to experience the atmosphere, the July is just as endowed.

The event attracts party animals from all over South Africa, who come specifically for the party spirit that engulf's Durban during the race period.

Such is the hype about the July that no longer are entertainment marques the reserve of corporate companies. Now wealthy individuals have bought into the fanfare of entertaining their guests at private tents on the course.

Arguably the most sought- after marque privé, is one hosted by super-rich Durban businessman Mabheleni Ntuli. It's truly an A-lister's joint.

For nature lovers, the Botanical Gardens, just a short stroll away, opens a splendour of colour and aroma with the finest collection of botanical species.

Here too, visitors jostle for the best spots at well appointed areas, just to enjoy the entertainment lined up to complement the on course events. This is one of the best places to enjoy an exotic yet pristine environment while racing goes on just a stone's throw away.

Nearby, one can saunter into any one of the bustling cafes, bars and restaurants serving fusions of cuisine.

As if that is not enough, the inimitable Natal Philharmonic Orchestra offers a calming musical effect.