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Wed Apr 23 14:06:50 SAST 2014

A right royal bash

Mike Moon | 02 November, 2012 00:06

Her Serene Highness the Princess of Monaco will be at the races tomorrow. I'll be there too, also serene - until, as usual, I start sweating on a dwindling betting stake.

Princess Charlene, the wife of Monaco's Prince Albert II, is the guest of honour at the Emperors Palace Charity Mile race day.

The annual meeting sees hundreds of thousands of rands going to good causes, with various charities being linked to the fortunes of horses running in the main event.

The popular formula also has celebrities linked to the horses and charities, but this year all those common or garden variety "schelebs" will be eclipsed by the princess. Royalty trumps all. Even republicans like us in our socialist confusion get a bit dazzled by a sparkly tiara.

Tomorrow we have a royal double whammy. Lesotho's King Letsie - a keen thoroughbred breeder - also graces us with his presence.

Of course, Charlene is no stranger to Egoli. Her childhood home is down the road in Benoni - just like that of Princess Charlize of Hollywood.

Born Charlene Wittstock in Bulawayo (coincidentally the birthplace of yet another princess, Her Not-So-Serene Highness of My Neck of the Woods), she emigrated to South Africa with her family in 1989 and eventually became an Olympic swimmer.

Charlene's parents, Michael and Lynette, own racehorses so her royal highness might even have been to Turfies before becoming serenity personified.

Turffontein first saw royalty in 1925, when Britain's Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, dropped by. This geezer was hugely popular at the time, described as "handsome and debonair", and the scheduled race meeting was moved from the downmarket Auckland Park track to the more salubrious Turffontein.

A "royal gate" was erected at the six-furlong post for the prince to enter through and be driven up the course in a cavalcade with mounted cavalry escorts, bands playing and the hoi polloi shouting "Hurrah!"

In 1945, the Aga Khan, an Islamic royal of sorts, was at Turffontein and was amused to note that the winner of one race, Bir El Gobi, was the son of Khorsheed, a horse he'd raced in England but which had been a very expensive flop and exported to these shores. The old place's biggest royal occasion was in 1947 when King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, toured the country.

Cape Heath, ridden by Basil Lewis, won the King's Cup at the Big T and the wartime monarch presented a special gold trophy to breeder-owner-trainer AR Ellis on the little grandstand balcony, decorated with the British royal crest, that can still be seen at Turffontein today.

Since then, the only royalty celebrated have been the kings of racing. And a few queens, of course. Young pretenders will make claims for racing enthronement tomorrow, particularly in the R2.5-million Ready To Run Cup, whence arose Igugu, queen of our turf.

TURFFONTEIN, TOMORROW: PA - 1,3 x 5,12 x 7 x 10,12 x 3,4,6,11 x 2,14 x 2 (R64)

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