With a feature race stakes pot of some R30-million for owners and another R17-million also available to them for supporting events during the three-month feast of high-class thoroughbred racing from May to July, South Africa’s Champions Season in KwaZulu-Natal is ready and set to blast off at Greyville in Durban at the end of next week.

The Independent On Saturday evening race meeting at the Theatre of Champions on Friday, May 3, will open the feast of 51 feature events that will attract the best horses from the leading stables in the country, promising racegoers, general racing fans and the average public plenty of excitement and entertainment throughout the three-month programme.

Champions Season, one of the biggest and most comprehensive festivals of racing in the world that attracts international interest, includes feature race involvement of all categories of racing from the exciting juveniles to the mature stars over distances from 1 000m to 3 200m with Africa’s greatest racing event, the world famous R4.25-million, Vodacom Durban July, standing out as the iconic centerpiece of the festival and the 13 Grade 1 races to be run.

A total of 34 graded races will be staged with the R600 000, Grade 2 KRA Guineas, R500 000, Grade 2 KRA Fillies Guineas and the R500 000, Grade 2 Independent On Saturday Drill Hall Stakes getting the festival action under way.

Traditionally, the R500 000, Grade 2 World Sports Betting 1900 at Greyville on May 18 is where the preparation for the Vodacom Durban July begins “on site” and over the years a number of runners that have won the tough 1 900m race have gone on to win the premier event.

There are five “super” days during the season, the first being the unique Tsogo Sun Sprint meeting at Scottsville in Pietermaritzburg on May 25 where four Grade 1 sprints over 1 200m will be run. The best speed horses in South Africa gather at the venue for the R1-million Tsogo Sun Sprint, the R750 000 South African Fillies Sprint and the first two Grade 1 events for juveniles, the R750 000 Gold Medallion and the R750 000 Allan Robertson Championship for fillies.

The country’s top three-year-olds take centre stage a week later on June 1 in the R2-million, Grade 1 Daily News 2000 and the R1-million, Grade 1 Woolavington 2000 at Greyville. It is from the three-year-old ranks that the champions of the future emerge and a number of winners at this meeting have gone on to win the Vodacom Durban July, other major events and international success.

The battle for a place in the final 18-horse field for the Vodacom Durban July will close on June 8 with the running of the R1-million, Grade 1 Rising Sun Gold Challenge and the Grade 3 Cup Trial with the meeting also featuring the Grade 2 Tibouchina Stakes and six other exciting feature events.

With the feature programme continuing at pace over the following weeks the Grade 2 Post Merchants will provide a “sprint breather” before the Track & Ball “Derby” and Track & Ball “Oaks” at Scottsville with the KZN Breeders Club adding excitement to the festival with the eight-race programme for horses qualifying under the terms of the KZN Breeders Series headed by the R1-million KZN Breeders Million Mile.

Vodacom Durban July day dawns on Saturday, July 6, when some 50 000 excited fans will fill the Greyville racecourse for the 12-race feast headed by the R4.25-million, iconic Grade 1 “July” over 2 200m. With an exciting entertainment programme, fashion shows and parties raging in the massive marquee village, racing goes through to the evening including the R1-million, Grade 1 Jonsson Workwear Garden Province Stakes and the two Grade 2 Juvenile clashes over 1 400m, the Durban Golden Horseshoe and the Golden Slipper.

The racing action continues through July and includes the New Turf Carriers Rider Cup where provincial teams will do battle before Champions Season comes to a dramatic close with the grand finale on Saturday, July 27, featuring the famous R1.25-million, eLAN Gold Cup over 3 200m, the R1-million World Sports Betting Champions Cup over 1 800m, the R1-million Grade 1 Mercury Sprint, the Grade 1 Premiers Champion Stakes and the Grade 1 Thekwini Stakes, both worth R750 000.