A Day at the Races

I see the Cape Town Met was run in the Mother City yesterday. It used to be called the J&B Met. My mate Ted and I went once. Here’s what happened.
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A 10km-deep snarl of traffic surrounded Kenilworth racecourse and our mood was ugly by the time we swerved into the J&B Met VIP parking area.
“Media,” I shouted, flashing my black wristband at the hoodlum manning the gate. “Let us through.”

Moving his jacket aside to show me his 9mm Beretta, he pointed in the direction of Port Elizabeth. “You must park at Youngsfield Military Base.”

Ted leaned across and began arguing. “You don’t know who you’re fucking with,” he said. I rapped him sharply on the head. “It’s not worth getting shot.” Ted disagreed. He said he’d sooner take a flesh wound than walk from Youngsfield.

“Besides,” he snapped, “what kind of imbeciles would allow people like us to park inside an army base?” He had a point. In a few hours, thousands of riotously drunk people would have lost all their money on a race that was probably fixed and they’d be tripping over field guns and climbing into fighter jets, vomiting all over the cockpit and trying to start the engines.

This is how coups happen in Africa.

By the time we made it back to the track, the early races had already been run.

“This parking fiasco has potentially cost me millions,” said Ted. I reminded him that even if he sold all his assets and put his wife on the street for an hour every evening, he still wouldn’t have enough to make close to one million.

He quietened down after that, perking up only once we had crossed the track that served not only as something soft for the horses to run on, but also as an effective barrier between the seething multitude of uncouth plebeians and the stinking rich and staggeringly beautiful, among whom we counted ourselves even though it became quite clear as the afternoon wore on that Ted was merely stinking and I was just plain staggeringly.

As it turned out, the Shangri-La of Kenilworth, the Hospitality Village, wasn’t all that hospitable. Dozens of companies had erected marquees filled with superlative snacks and free drinks, all of which were protected by phalanxes of uniformed guards itching to smash someone’s head in.

Ted suggested we start off at the J&B marquee and work our way south. “If we can’t get in there, we may as well stampede the horses and go home.”

We flashed our media tags and were right away denied entry by a cat in a hat. I told the hatted cat that I was a famous columnist and demanded to be let in. The cat twirled his whiskers, stroked his dreadlocks and said we could go in. For twenty minutes.

Inside, there was an abundance of alcohol and half-naked women stretching as far as the eye could see.

“This is where fundamentalist suicide bombers go when they die,” I said. “To be sure,” said Ted, “except that none of the women here are virgins.” A girl dressed as Porno Barbie overheard and gave us the lazy eye.
“Who cares,” I said. “We’re here for fillies of a classier breed.”

Sauntering over to the bookies, I studied the stats for the eighth race. There was something called a swinger pool but my body clock told me it was too early in the day to strip down and start hitting on another man’s wife.

I couldn’t work out if I was looking at the horse’s age, weight or odds, so I put a fistful of notes on number 18 for no real reason at all. The bookie gave me the lazy eye and said there were only 13 horses in the race. “I knew that,” I said. “What about this 50kg three-year-old? Is that the horse or the jockey?” She ignored me so I asked if she thought Wonder Lawn had a chance, but she said he had been scratched for coughing. “That’s a bit unfair,” I said. “Maybe he was just a little hoarse.” She asked me to step away from the counter.

There appeared to be a lull in the racing so we set about abusing J&B’s hospitality like a couple of rednecks who had never seen whisky before.

It wasn’t long before the cat in the hat blindsided us and said we had ten minutes left. Ted seemed to think this hilarious, which wasn’t a pretty sight because his mouth was so full of high-octane liquor that it spurted from his nose as he snorted and guffawed like a drowning animal.

I excused myself and went to the toilet, which wasn’t so much a toilet as it was an event all of its own. There was some kind of grooming frenzy going on in the bathroom area, with teenage girls wearing four sequins and a feather getting their hair teased and faces put back on.

A diaphanous nymph shimmered up to me and asked if I would like to get spritzed. “Damn right I would,” I said, leering openly. She hosed me down with scented holy water, drenching my sunglasses and turning the day into a purple haze.

Just then, a portaloo became vacant and I stumbled blindly towards it, slamming my steel-capped boot into a supermodel’s shin. She went down like a sack of potatoes. Well, more like a packet of low-calorie Smash. A transgendered manicurist took her round the back and put her down. These highly-strung creatures are never the same after breaking a bone. Or even a nail. Just another mercy killing at the races.

Later, while hiding out from the hatted cat, we were joined by someone’s pet monkey. I offered him a bowl of complimentary peanuts but he laughed and knocked back a vodka shooter.

“What kind of monkey are you?” I asked. It turned out that he wasn’t a monkey at all. He was a jockey. “How were we to know?” said Ted, moving away from the gibbering homunculus.

Outside, drenched in sweat and whisky, we began making our way from marquee to marquee like thirst-crazed nomads. We were welcomed wherever we went. Until we breached security at the JTI tent. We made it all the way to the bar and even got our order in. As the G&Ts landed, a surly brute came out of nowhere and ordered us to leave.

I drew myself up to my full height, which wasn’t all that much since I was on my knees, and informed him that I worked for a well-known newspaper. This seemed to make matters worse and we were escorted to the door without our G&T or our dignity.

Neither Ted nor I had ever heard of JTI. Judging by the manner of their employees, I assumed they were a mob of Australian cowboys strip-mining the Wild Coast. Much later, after being treated like royalty at the PetroSA marquee, I found out what kind of company would rather be savaged in the press than give a struggling writer a free drink.

A tobacco company. What a shocker. Japan Tobacco International sells 385 billion cigarettes a year. That’s R80-billion in sales. Our G&Ts would have set the company back fifty bucks.

How to place a bet without making a complete fool of myself was beyond me, but I wasn’t about to leave without a substantial win on the main race.

“All of it on Badger’s Gift for a win,” I said, seconds before betting closed. She was the only filly in the race and hadn’t seen a track in three months. She had to be hungry for a flat-out run.

Pressed up against the rail, I couldn’t see the start. Actually, I had no idea where the start was. For all I knew it was in Knysna.

The crowd erupted and I spilled whisky all down my shirt but I didn’t care because my horse was winning and soon I would be able to buy a thousand new shirts. Badger’s Gift crossed the line so far ahead of the others that I couldn’t even see them. I dashed back to the bookie to claim my winnings but she said it only counts if the horse has a jockey.

I was appalled. The stupid cow had thrown her tiny human and made straight for the stables for a bit of hay and a little lie-down.

“If lame horses get shot, why don’t you shoot lame jockeys?” Ted shouted, trying to reach into the till to get our money back.

We were escorted to the door and I’ve never been back.