Band, sand make Vaal grand
THE Vaal River might start out in the mountains, but after that it sticks to flatlands. So, the mountains must come to it.
This is a witty reference to Die Heuwels Fantasties, the rock band that is coming to the Vaal racecourse tomorrow to headline the musical entertainment at the Emerald Cup race meeting.
But it's not just the groovers from Bellville who are venturing beyond the southern hills into the deep interior. Two Cape Town racehorse trainers are also braving the uitgestrekte vlaktes of the northern Free State.
Mike Bass and Joey Ramsden are among the more adventurous Kapenaars, having raided the Highveld with horses before.
But they've not often done so at the Vaal, a mysterious place that lurks a full hour's journey from civilisation.
And they've certainly not tackled its sand track's big race before. It's testament to how the Emerald Cup has grown in regard in its few years of existence that racing practitioners around the country are keen to have the title on their CVs - not to mention the R600000 in prize money. For race sponsor Emerald Casino, which lies a few hundred metres downriver from the racecourse, the event is a marketing gift.
The resort packs in more partygoers and punters this weekend than at any other time of the year. Emerald has timed the meeting for the Heritage Day long weekend and laid on four days of festivity to liven up the normally sleepy banks of the ancient watercourse named Tky-Gariep (Dull River) by Kora Khoikhoi people long ago.
The race meeting itself has come to resemble an old-fashioned country fair, with diversions for folk of all ages.
Amid jumping castles, donkey rides, beer gardens, beauty contests and braais, there's always a konsert of note. Die Heuwels Fantasties come highly recommended and I, for one, look forward to tapping a toe to the hits Vinger Alleen, Heel Te Mal and Pille Vir Kersfees.
Also on the bill are DJ Vin Diesel and Toya Delazy, a songstress whose work is described as embracing "hip-hop with a rock edge, a soulful underbelly and a spattering of unexpected instrumentation".
A spattering of wet river sand is always expected when the horses run and that makes this Vaal oval something of a specialist's venue. Some horses are proficient on both it and turf, while others either love it or loathe it.
Cup favourite Mr Tobin is a lover. In his 10 starts on the Vaal sand for Sean Tarry he's only been beaten once - a tally that would make him a racing certainty if it weren't for his top weight of 60.5kg and a 10 out of 14 starting gate draw.
Last year's winner of the 1400m contest, The Mouseketeer, and second-placed Across The Ice, both also trained by Tarry, have obvious credentials, while champion conditioner Mike de Kock's Meadow Magic and Right Beauty have shown they're handy on sand.
Emerald Cup (Race 8): 1 Mr Tobin, 6 Right Beauty, 14 Beacon Flare, 9 Across The Ice