The Race Cardby Creepy Steve, illustration by Alastair Laird / 21.06.2010
Deep within the industrial area to the south of Durban lies a fertile oasis green dedicated to that noble equestrian pursuit of horseracing. Man’s mastery of beast and machine peacefully co-exist around the Clairwood Race Track which was a buzz for “The Rising Sun’s” annual Golden Challenge Race Day and Fair. The Rising Sun being a community based broadsheet that distributes from Phoenix in the North to Ifafa in the South.
Not far from the prestige of The July, The Met or the Epsom Derby, this is the backbone of the sports gambling community that keeps the whole industry of brightly dressed midgets whipping ponies alive. The stake, the incentive to do this, ranges from around R750k, split in descending ratios between the top five horses, and that goes primarily to the owners. The midgets, who I thought were entertainers, on a fixed retainer, purely for comic relief, actually get around 7% of their horse’s stake if they place in the top 5. Now one horse may also have a number of owners who have a share in it, confusing? The race card is critical if you are to begin to decipher this whole horse racing operation. At first It might seem a confusing blur, but with explanation you can figure out what number race it is in the day’s meet, length and time. Below that each horse, with assigned number in the race, has a series of stats to help inform your expert betting decision; info like age, number of races run, how many times it’s finished top three, etc. But picking the horse isn’t the difficult part. It all depends on how you want to bet your money.
There are different ways of hedging your bets, either you are betting for a horse to win or for it to place in the top three. A bet on places will pay less but there is more chance of recuperating your money. But there’s also a swinger ticket and you can add other horses to your ticket to place or win in some bizarre calculation of pay out. There’s also a trifecta where you win big for picking the top 3, and a place accumulator works by picking horses that place or win over the whole race meet.
More and more this all seemed like a complicated ruse to help you part with your money. Every person you talk to is a self-professed expert on the matter. And the more people you talk to, you realize this is mostly drunken bravado. No one really knows what’s going on and they are only too happy to ask you for a gwaai for their advice. Few pundits take the time to view the horses in the paddock area and see how they are walking on the day. No, here in the tote, amidst the smoke and beers, the real information is swopped that determines the favorites, and thus the odds that drive payout. The more money the public is betting on a particular horse the less it pays out at the bookmakers. The odds will be fixed when you place the bet, but the odds will fluctuate with the public’s opinion, inversely. So goes the story of racing’s confusing variables. I put down R20 for a swinger on 1 Pocket Power and 10 Mother Russia in the eighth race with time enough to stock up on beer and a spicy ¼ mutton bunny for R25 from the stalls. The fair had attracted quite a crowd, activities including a beauty contest and car show featuring a 3l street eater with overboard sound, standard stuff really. Ten minutes into the bhangra dancers Alastair dumbfounded declared, “this is portion city!”
After that some ballie started singing over a backing track things in the vein of “Give Me Hope Jo-anna” and UB40 numbers, which I think was what threw my horses off. Pocket Power, the favourite, gave a solid start but gave way later coming in 3rd, Big City Life winning and Mother Russia limping in nowhere. 20 Rand down the toilet. GAMBLE RESPONSIBLY people. Don’t be that ou waiting outside the Overport tote for it to open 8am on a Sunday morning, drunk on 5l box wine, trying to win back the child support money owed on Monday.
Illustration © Alastair Laird.