Summer Cup and De Kock are hot tickets
Something unusual occurred this week. I had several requests for hospitality tickets for the races at Turffontein tomorrow.
This hasn't happened in ages and I'm not sure what it signifies.
It might be that it's the day of the R2-million Summer Cup and the venerable event has recaptured some of the prestige and allure it once had as Johannesburg's premier horse race and a social occasion of note.
On the other hand, demand might be driven by the plethora of non-equine entertainment on offer on the course - a R100000 lucky-draw giveaway, R30000 in jewellery prizes for "best dressed" racegoers, the Sansui Sound Experience with popular artists rocking on into the night, and more.
Perhaps people are just looking for a distraction from the all-pervasive Mangaung circus. Or perhaps the promise of winning wagers offers relief from dreary austerity.
The cynical might suggest ticket requests have something to do with the R50 entry charge on Summer Cup day - after free entry to racecourses has become the norm.
But, optimist that I am, I prefer to think racing is regaining some of the popularity it lost to rival attractions like casinos, Lotto, shopping malls, cellphones and satellite television.
Whatever is pulling folk to the Big T, it's no bad thing in my book. The more people we get there the better; some of them might well enjoy the experience and become regulars.
For established racing fans, the 2012 Summer Cup is all about champion trainer Mike de Kock aiming to register his 10th victory in the race.
The maestro has a rather good chance of doing this as he saddles seven of the 20 runners.
Having 35% of the contenders in a marquee feature is no mean achievement in itself, but his yard also having the first three in the betting is, well, astonishing.
Mujaarib tops the boards at 22/10, with Silver Flyer at 4/1 and Vettel at 8/1.
The former is unbeaten in four starts and looks something special. But this is a bigger test than any the colt has faced and doubts have been raised about his capacity to stay the 2000m distance.
A handy galloping weight of 53.5kg and a favourable No8 draw might help him overcome stamina limitations and he's a worthy favourite.
But something those newcomers to racing will find out tomorrow is that unpredictability is the name of this game.
A determined bunch of trainers and jockeys are set on frustrating the De Kock bid for glory.
Among them is pint-sized rider Muzi Yeni, who partners Astro News (20/1) from the Brian Wiid yard.
What a great news story it'll be if the lad from Umlazi becomes the first black rider to win one of the country's "majors".
It'll also be great news for my bank balance. Go Muzi.
SELECTION: Summer Cup (Race 7): 13 Astro News, 18 Mujaarib, 3 Smanjemanje, 6 Silver Flyer