Our view at Salt Rock.

No half-measures on IRC’s superb Durban July trip

Joao Da Mata has never held anything back from guests on our IRC racing travels, and with last week’s Durban July trip to South Africa he again laid it on in abundant style for those who responded to our invites for this annual highlight.

Durban welcomed the IRC with three surprises – a temporary lifting of the crippling load-shedding procedures to relieve the agony following recent floods; an open toll gate on the journeys from our residence in Salt Rock, north of Durban, and gloriously sunny weather all week.

Joao booked us into a beachfront mansion in Salt Rock, about 60 km north of Durban and somewhat remote, but once settled in the area we weren’t sorry at all, because we had a stretch of quiet, unspoilt North Coast beach all to ourselves. 

Londonders Scott Ellis and Marc Dowdeswell, who seldom see the phenomenon called the sun, insisted on lengthy walks on the beach sand and chats with local fisherman, with beach guide Charl Pretorius found badly wanting in the home stretch – a hundred stairs from the breaking of the waves up to the roadside.

We shared the environment with small troops of North Coast Monkeys, considered a menace when they come too close for comfort to pinch food, but with a number of professional eaters in the house there was nothing for them to plunder.

We saw some spectacular sunrises and sunsets – big Joe always up first with his camera – and he dragged everyone out at 430 one morning for whale watching on Durban’s high seas – a beautiful experience on a boat in which Scott captured a few good shots.

Whale Watching.
Whale Watching.
Salt Rock beach.
Salt Rock beach.

Dinner in the company of Joao Da Mata is always a treat. He found a few plum spots on the beach in Ballito, the hub of the North Coast and we started off at Niko’s Greek restaurant where the floor was soon heaped with plates broken, Greek-Style, to cheers of ‘Opa’! Aoife Wigzell proved most adept at this and enjoyed three throwing sessions which actually encouraged diners at other tables to join in.

Kuta-Kola Restaurant’s seaside breakfast was so good Joao had to order two, and we went back for lunch for a pleasant cocktail menu experiment entitled ‘Which cocktaill tastes best?’ Charl was quickly ‘overs’ following three Long Island Ice Teas. Scott experimented with various shades of Rum and Marc went the safer, piña colada route but made up for it by relieving Sun Coast Casino of their whiskey reserves at the KZN Sale, later on.

Also at the sale, we were advised to bid on a good-looking yearling from Mauritzfontein Farm, said to be the last ‘good one’ on the catalogue, Lot 136 Mr Belvedere, by Ideal World. Our Kaycee Silva got her hand up first at 50k, but this one went all the way to R450,000, so we’ll be waiting for easier pickings at the National Two-Year-Old Sale.

One would’ve thought that ‘Fish’, our favourite diner in Umhlanga, had enough prawns in stock to feed a group of hungry men and women, but Scotty ate them, and the rest of us, clean out of regular supplies and we had to settle for Red Roman, Calamari and Fish Cakes.

Scott’s love for prawns was matched only by Charl’s appetite for biltong, something that Marc found quite astounding. The trio, enjoying themselves to the full, even turned to burning up packs of Marlboro with every few bottles of wine.

There are two more meals worth mentioning – a night out at the Fiamma Grill in Ballito –cheese cake served for a fake birthday when Scott wanted Teramisu, but he did make up for it with an order of bolognaise and the best red and white wines in the house. That must have paid Fiamma’s rent for the month!

Scott ate Durban clean out of prawns.
Scott ate Durban clean out of prawns.
Aoife, Queen of the Plate-Throwers!
Aoife, Queen of the Plate-Throwers!

And then, on Friday morning, breakfast at the beautiful Summerveld training centre where we got to meet trainers Mike de Kock, Justin Snaith, Gareth van Zyl, Nathan Kotzen and Corrie Lensley and received some valuable information for July Day – a true treat and a rare opportunity to see top-level contenders before their big race day engagements.

We were delighted to host up-and-coming trainer and all-round nice guy Gareth van Zyl at our beach house for a braai on Friday. Gareth doesn’t need alcoholic persuasion to have a good time and tell us about his horses – he mentioned that his top filly She’s A Keeper will ‘pick up the pieces’ in case hot-pot favourite Captain’s Ransom fluffed her lines in July Day’s Garden Province Stakes, which she duly did. Everyone in the IRC group was impressed by Gareth, a trainer whose skills with thoroughbreds are matched by his people skills. He is most certainly going places.

Kaycee, Cole and Aoife did a great job planning the changes to and renovating our private suite on the Greyville grandstand. We had a swell time joined by 20 guests including Phil Molony, Lezeanne Forbes, Blaine Hamilton and Gino Da Silva. Winners and losers were backed, cries of joy and laughter went up, a few swear words too for the losers, but in all, a massive day for us, only spoilt by parking problems around a busy racecourse and the guest appearance of a terrible man in black who serves a terrible government.

Otherwise, a trip that will be long remembered for its glitz, glamour, great food and great company, a feather in the cap for IRC boss Joao Da Mata, who does not understand the term, ‘half measure’!

We hope to see more readers on our Durban July trip, with us, next year. It’s an absolute joy! -IRC.

SManga Khumalo, interviewed at Summerveld on Friday.
SManga Khumalo, interviewed at Summerveld on Friday.
Scott with ante-post July favourite, Safe Passage.
Scott with ante-post July favourite, Safe Passage.
Cole and Kaycee in IRC gear.
Cole and Kaycee in IRC gear.
IRC guests outside our suite.
IRC guests outside our suite.
Greyville Grandstand facing paddock.
Greyville Grandstand facing paddock.
Arrow points to IRC box.
Arrow points to IRC box.

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