There is no sporting topic that inspires more discussion, from grannies to nannies, than the Durban July. Without doubt, the excitement of “the July” is shared by more South Africans across more cultural, racial and economic spectra than any other single moment’s entertainment, and this has been so since its first running in 1897, when Campanajo earned the first of his two consecutive victories.
While his victory in the 50th renewal of this great event was 62 years ago, my grandfather’s diminutive St Pauls, who won the race from the outside draw in record time, conferred not only on himself, but on those around him, something of an aura of immortality. This all happened some four years before my own birth, yet I remember, as a young army conscript undergoing his basic training, attempting to make a “reverse charges” call to my parents in the erstwhile Transkei.
The procedure required the caller to provide the telephone operator with his name, and as it happened, the telephone operator was one Nic Claasen, (now a veteran trainer of many years, who has a filly engaged as one of the favorites in Saturday’s Golden Slipper). Upon hearing my surname, he enquired whether I was related to the owner of St Pauls, and I realized then the enormity of the meaning of victory in this great race.
Indeed, to my grandfather, Pat, it was everything, and in his deep desire to win the race he left no stone unturned, including the need to prepare for the victory celebrations in advance. This he did by engaging the services of a young lady by the name of June Maguire, then proprietress of the Kew Hotel on Durban’s Berea. With victory secured, every Durbanite who shared Pat Goss’ reverence for the Durban July, was invited to one of the greatest victory parties in the race’s history.
In due course, that same June Maguire became June Coller, and her daughter Robin is now Robin Muir, who with her husband Robert have been patrons of the stud since the day the gates opened, and these days, they’re renowned for their connectivity with the likes of Cataloochee and Ravishing, both major “domos” in our stallion barn.