Calling all the winners

2012-07-07 00:00

“EAGLE Eye” Craig Peters calls his 27th Durban July today, having done his first in 1984 when Devon Air galloped to victory.

He’s been commentating for 34 years, first in Johannesburg and since 1982 in KwaZulu-Natal.

He’s commentating for SABC while his son Sheldon calls the race on track, the envy of his father who admits the atmosphere of the track is what the July is about.

Says Peters: “Calling the race on track allows interaction with the crowd. You can feel the buzz, especially when the horses turn for home. I raise my voice and when I shout the name of the leader and where the fancied runners are, the crowd erupts. Doing it for TV is a closed environment and cuts you off from the vibe.”

One of Peters’s favourite moments was in 1990 when the Terrence Millard-trained Illustrador took the honours.

“I did on track that day and it sticks in my mind as a superb race with the crowd hanging on every word. I had thousands of people in the palm of my hand. They moved and reacted with me,” he said.

His most exciting and nerve-wracking moments were in 2000 and 2008.

“In 2000, El Picha and Young Rake tore for the line. It was extremely tight, but I called it for El Picha, giving the horse back-to-back wins. Pocket Power and Dancer’s Daughter were inseparable in 2008 and my dead heat call was right. You cannot afford to mess up in a race like the July. It’s too big a stage and the talk will go on forever,” he said.

Another memory, one for the family scrapbook, was in 2005, when Peters was joined by Sheldon in calling the race. “We made history as the first father and son to call a feature race at the same venue. We were in different commentary boxes, but were both calling it live.”

Peters has seen some of the country’s best thoroughbreds, jockeys and trainers taste glory at the July and he rates them highly.

“South African jockeys rate with the best athletes in the world. In today’s race, eight of them are previous July winners. On the training front, while Syd Laird holds the record of seven wins, the great Terrence Millard with six and Mike de Kock going for his fifth are legends. Of the horses, there have been some great winners, in particular Pocket Power and those who have won against all odds from wide draws. Dynasty (2003), Classic Flag (1998) and Flaming Rock (1991) come to mind. My all-time winning legends are Sea Cottage (1967), In Full Flight (1972) and Politician (1978).”

There have been tragedies and objections, but Peters prefers to leave those in the past, remembering all that is good for the sport.

Being in the business so long, his recipe for success is getting to know the jockey’s silks, enabling him to call without stutter or pause.

“Some silks are easily recognisable, associated with the great owners, while others must be learned. It’s a gift and something that either can or can’t be done. Sheldon and I are the only commentators in KZN and it’s like a boxer – once the bell sounds, you’re on your own.”

For Sheldon, working with his father continues to go well. “This is my 11th July in 15 years of commentary. I wanted to be a jockey and was too big. Next best was commentating and 2005 was our pinnacle moment when we commentated together,” he said.

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The Peters’ predictions

CRAIG Peters’s prediction for today’s race: Jackson, Gorongosa, Vettel, Ilha Bela.

Sheldon: Jackson, English Garden, Pierre Jourdan, Chesalon.

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