Words by Marcus Townend
Imagine the ideal mix of sun, sea and top-class racing and you might think of a trip to the Qatar Goodwood Festival in July. It would be near the top of most people’s lists, but definitely closely followed by Cape Town in January for the glitzy L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate meeting at Kenilworth. Just ask the 34 members of the Goodwood Racehorse Owners’ Group (GROG) who experienced racing in the Western Cape at the start of the year.
Aerial View of Kenilworth Racecourse Photo: Thomas Van Willis
The six-day trip centred around one of South Africa’s biggest races and a meeting attended by the cream of Cape society as well as a clutch of celebrities from the world of sport and showbusiness, including England cricketers James Anderson, Johnny Bairstow, James Taylor, their illustrious predecessor Ian Botham and Formula 1’s Eddie Jordan.
Mike Rutherford, founder member of Genesis, also presented the winning prize to the team behind Light The Lights, who pounced late to win the Glorious Goodwood Peninsula Handicap on the supporting card.
During the last three years L’Ormarins and Goodwood have forged close links; L’Ormarins sponsor the Qatar Goodwood Festival version of the Queen’s Plate and attaching the name of our track to a race on one of Kenilworth’s biggest fixtures is another extension of the twinning.
GROG members at Kenilworth, Photo: Dan Abraham
The GROG tourists, sticking to the blue and white dress code which adds to the chic nature of the L’Ormarins meeting, lunched and followed the marathon 12-race card from their own private facility.
In Legal Eagle, the colt which added the one-mile Queen’s Plate to his 2015 win in the mile and a half South African Derby, they could have witnessed a horse who is going to make quite a mark on South African racing.
But this tour, organised by Gail Brown, was about far more than just a day at the races and involved mixing with the ‘larneys’, local slang for the powerful and influential folk of the Cape Town area.
It had started two days earlier with a drinks party at their base in the colonial splendour of the Mount Nelson, one of Cape Town’s most exclusive and distinctive hotels whose scrumptious afternoon teas have been rated among the best in the world.
If any heads needed clearing, the opportunity came at Muizenberg beach, the place said to be the birthplace of surfing in the Cape. GROG’s visit there was to see leading local trainer Justin Snaith exercise some of his string – including some of his incredible 34 entries for Queen’s Plate day – in the surf.
The powerful ‘Cape Doctor’ south-easterly wind whipped up the waves to produce one of the most memorable images of the holiday with Justin’s assistant trainer brother Jonathan answering any questions before the group was whisked away for breakfast at Snaith’s nearby stable for a longer look at his string, which includes horses owned by the Coolmore Stud.
A corner of Kirstenbosch Gardens Photo: Jeannie Knight
The afternoon was taken up with a trip to the renowned Kirstenbosch botanical gardens which lie at the eastern foot of Table Mountain and contain some rare indigenous species of Cycads, plus a memorable collection of Proteas. There was also a chance to walk on The Boomslang – a tree canopy walkway named after a species of tree snake, which offers spectacular views of both the gardens and bay in the distance.
The day concluded with GROG mingling with the young and trendy for cocktails on the beach at Granger Bay before dinner.
Stellenbosch Photo: Jeannie Knight
Around the university town of Stellenbosch and in the Franschhoek valley, an area originally colonised bythe French Huguenots in the 1600s, the vineyards border the roads like the farms in an English county. It is where South Africa’s best wines are produced.
Monday was spent here with a vineyard tour before lunch in the palatial splendour of the Lanzerac estate.
It was back to this region for the final day with a truly memorable trip to the Drakenstein Stud and Vinery owned, like L’Ormarins, by the Rupert family.,Here, there was a chance to taste some of the estate’s renowned wines before a parade of the stud’s yearlings and five stallions, which include former Aidan O’Brien-trained King George VI & Queen
Elizabeth Stakes winner Duke of Marmalade, in the shadow of the towering Drakenstein mountains.
There was also a chance to view the world famous Rupert collection of cars at the Franschhoek Motor Museum, which includes rare, priceless models including Bugattis, Ferraris, Maseratis and Mercedes.
Summing up the trip, GROG tourist Elsa Sherwood said: “I have been on quite a few GROG trips but this was my first time in Cape Town. Like all the previous ones it was lovely. A lot of work goes into the organisation and there is so much content to the week. “The Queen’s Plate was superb and I enjoy seeing what the racing is like in different parts of the world.”
For more information on the Goodwood Racehorse Owners’ Group, please call 01243 755029 or visit www.goodwood.com/horse-racing/racehorse-ownership