Every year, thousands of South Africans enjoy one of oldest and largest horseracing events in South Africa, the J&B Met. This year almost 50,000 fans were on hand for the occasion, which is held at the Kenilworth racecourse in Cape Town. But the races are only part of the story. The event has also become a fashion parade. Men and women in their best designer clothing bet on their favorite horses, while others bet on the fashion. At the end of the day, one couple is voted best dressed.From Cape Town Voice of America English to Africa reporter Unathi Kondile says the early 1800s saw the very first Metropolitan Mile horse race.
Today it’s called the J&B Met and is sponsored by a company that makes a popular whiskey. Sixteen of South Africa’s top horses race over 2000 meters, competing in front of massive crowds. The owner of the winning horse pockets almost 300,000 US dollars.
Russel Southey is the commercial manager of Gold Circle, the company that organizes the race. He says, “Horse racing, for people who’ve never experienced it, is very thrilling. It’s certainly something to get very excited about! You don’t have to bet. You can simply enjoy the spectacle of...20 horses thundering down the track. It’s a very exciting experience for people.”
This year’s winner was Pocket Power -- only the second horse to win the race twice in a row.
In between races, there’s plenty of entertainment, including music and fashion. It’s not just the horses that are on view. Stylish couples also show off their colorful clothing.
This year’s fashion theme was Connect Couture – the women were dressed in patterned shades of plum and metallic colors. They wore huge hats and shiny high heels and carried big hand fans. Fashion spotters surveyed the crowd and took pictures of the best-dressed couples.
One of South Africa’s cellular phone providers awarded the best-dressed couple with a weeklong all expense paid trip to Mauritius.
Russel Southey says the event boosts employment in Cape Town. More than 5,000 people work at the J&B Met.
“One of the things the Met does is that it also creates a number of short-term jobs, limited duration contract jobs, where you’ll have many many people, hundreds of people who are employed in the build-up phase of the Met – say in the last month or six weeks prior to the Met. And obviously we have a lot of people employed on the day. We must have in the region of probably four to five thousand people working here on the day. That’s security staff, catering staff, people working at the gate, ushering staff, information kiosks staff and many more. So there’s an enormous generation of jobs.”
The event is also good for the fashion industry.
Local designers open their studios early in the year to make outfits for J&B Met ticket-holders. Local shopping centers and fashion stores participate in a number of promotions and plaster their stores with the company’s logos. An independent economic impact survey showed that over three million US dollars worth of clothing in the Western Cape Province were directly linked to the J&B Met. The entire event generates around nine million US dollars for the Western Cape economy.
After the race, there were parties across the Cape that lasted late into the night. The revellers talked excitedly of doing it all again next year.