L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate Festival

January 6, 2017

by James Trotter

Over the last decade, the historically significant and prestigious L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate has established itself as Africa’s most exclusive raceday, as well as one of the world’s most desirable racing events to attend. Every year thousands of Cape Town’s youngest, sexiest and most fashionable stream into Kenilworth Racecourse dressed in the sponsors colours of blue and white to revel under the Cape summer sun. In January this year the event chartered new ground when innovatively growing from a single day celebration into the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate Racing Festival – Africa’s first multi-day horseracing event, up there with the likes of Royal Ascot or Glorious Goodwood in the United Kingdom.

As the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate has risen in international popularity in recent years, so the number of racing fans, socialites and holiday makers from abroad – especially Europe – has steadily increased. L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate organizer, Katherine Gray, explains the reason for the launch of the new festival, “We see more and more internationals coming to the event every year, and the raceday has become a celebration of people from around the world. We wanted to look into ways of extending the length of the festival and provide our international guests with a multitude of fun activities to attend over the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate week.”

Cape Town in the summer – with its white sand beaches, crystal blue waters, iconic mountainous backdrop, Michelin-star restaurants and party-filled buzz in the air – is already one of the world’s most popular places to be in January. It is little wonder that the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate, arguably the most memorable party in Cape Town’s social calendar, attracts an increasing number of European visitors each year, as many look to escape the cold of the Northern Hemisphere winter.

The original event is traditionally run on the first or second Saturday of January, which sees the running of South Africa’s championship mile event, and the oldest race in the country, the G1 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate. Over ten thousand people are treated to wines and champagne from the vineyards of Anthonij Rupert Wines, while resplendent amongst the dreamlike white and blue themed setting created by L’Ormarins, with finishing touches from premier luxury brands and co-sponsors such as Cartier and BMW.

As a build up to this year’s racing festival, an inaugural social celebrity cricket match was held on the Wednesday at the Groot Drakenstein Games Club near Franschhoek – approximately an hour outside of Cape Town and neighbouring L’Ormarins Wine Estate. The venue is home to both Anthonij Rupert Wyne and Drakenstein Stud, one of the country’s leading and most picturesque thoroughbred stud farms. Out on the field were the likes of former international cricketers Jacques Kallis and Craig Kieswetter as well as European Tour golfer Richard Sterne. The spectators were not only treated to an afternoon buffet, an assortment of wines and beer, a beautiful summer’s day sitting beneath umbrellas, but also to a commentary from former English cricketer and famously voiced Geoffrey Boycott.

On Thursday, the eve of the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate Racing Festival, a number of the guests attending the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate were invited to the beautiful Mount Nelson Hotel for High Tea. Hosted by the Cape’s leading trainers – Snaith Racing – brothers Justin and Jonathon Snaith created an elegant setting where guests were encouraged to indulge in the complimentary wine and gin bar and relax into a festive mood while listening to the music of American based musician, Louise Carver. In anticipation for the racing to come, the trainers went through the racecard for the weekend, generously giving their tips on what to follow over the next two days of racing.

The G1 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate this year saw a repeat from the year before with reigning Horse of the Year, Legal Eagle, defending his crown in an imperious fashion. Saturday’s raceday also sees the hosting of the Best Dressed competitions. The highlight of which is the prize for the Best Dressed Lady, this year won by Camilla Beazley, whose award is an all-expenses paid trip to London for a week to attend the prestigious Glorious Goodwood racing festival during the British summer.

Although the Saturday ultimately builds towards a climactic closing party, dancing to the sounds of top DJ Euphonik, the Friday is labelled as ‘the LQP Garden Party’ and has more of a relaxed feel to it. An afternoon affair with a harvest table and L’Ormarin’s Brut. The main race of the day is the G2 Cartier Sceptre Stakes, which sees a number of the fastest female horses in South Africa taking each other on over the straight Kenilworth 1200m. The sun only sets in Cape Town after eight in January, so once the racing has concluded late in the afternoon, guests can sit and savor the rest of the day. Sipping on Methode Cap Classique under the giant oak trees, it is truly a blissful day spent watching the shadows grow longer on the green forests of Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, gradually growing darker on the mountains above them.