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War And Peace

All's fair in love, war and racing

The Game of Life War and Peace article Favourstud

How do you play?


For when the One Great Scorer
comes to mark against your name,

He writes – not that you won or lost –
but HOW you played the Game

– Grantland Rice


I’ve been desperately trying to avoid writing this column. Mainly because the subject is tiresome and trying to get to the bottom of it is headache-inducing. Pertinent information is not readily available and what is available is subject to interpretation and change and being superseded by additional information that I may not have considered yet.

However, I do feel that it is worth making the effort as the current state of affairs in racing is very worrying and it also has the potential to have major repercussions going forward. I also feel that if important decisions are being made and important events are taking place, then it is important to question things and people and to try and understand why and how things are happening and more importantly, how they will affect racing going forward.

I feel that there is an awful lot that needs to be said, but I haven’t been able to settle on an honest, clean angle in order to comment. I have spoken to a lot of people to get their views and input. I’ve tried to talk to the various folks in charge – in some cases I’ve been able to get comment and in others I have not, which is frustrating as it makes it hard for me to consider both sides in order to form a balanced opinion.


So, my first point of business is communication. Communication in racing is shocking and if and when any appears, it usually says very little. Our various racing bodies seem to feel little duty or responsibility for supplying information and being accountable towards the general racing public, nevermind the press.


Greyville track
Greyville Race Track War and Peace Article in Favourstud

It’s become a bit of an annual event now really, but a number of people raised concerns regarding the state of the Greyville track. A number of the horses that raced on it during the season sustained injuries. I tried to follow the matter up and was bounced around various organisations, none of whom would claim any responsibility or obligation to even look into it. Probably my favourite response was that there was no way to prove any correlation between horses racing on a particular track and being shown to have sustained injuries afterwards. Horses have suffered career and in some cases life ending injuries, owners have been left heartbroken and in some cases seriously reconsidering their participation in the sport and no-one in authority has been remotely interested. So I’m left to draw the conclusion that our various powers that be assume racing and injuries happen independently of one another and either way, it’s got nothing to do with them.

Let’s not even mention the new polytrack and tar road that we have and the safety ditch that we don’t.

Training centre

With the sale / loss of Clairwood, there have been investments and improvements at various Gold Circle venues, not least of which is Summerveld. If the rumours are to be believed, the new stabling complexes should be on a par with Nkandla!


TellytrackTv Horse racing Telly Track

Next on my agenda is the Tellytrack debacle. Well, this has had so many off-shoots and ‘interpretations’ that quite frankly the mind boggles. Interestingly, it’s been relatively difficult to elicit any opinion (fact or fiction) from the Operators, whereas Bookmakers up and down the country have been more than happy to chat to me. Which is neither here nor there, but I thought was worth mentioning (see communication above). Tellytrack has been on, off and somewhere in the middle. Some kind soul let it slip that TT coverage would resume (prompting a bizarre internal witch hunt for the culprit – heaven forbid that customers be told what’s going on) and now it seems TT is back on again. Hurrah. However, I do love the new daily round up and the publication of the Stipes’ reports after the last race, so whoever’s initiative that was – fantastic job.

But back to the reasons TT went missing in the first place. There have been claims and counter claims and trying to make sense of it all is frankly enough to make one’s brain bleed. The Operators claim that bookies take an unfair share of the betting pie and should pay a portion of their profits in lieu of access to racing coverage. Bookies feel that they contribute a fair amount as it is and that the tax concessions and exclusive totalisator licences granted to Operators level the playing field more than adequately. There is the minor point that our Operators own one of the largest bookmaking operations in the country, which would indicate that they have as much access to punting business as Bookies do. Apart from the open bet, but they opt out of that option by choice. However, it is unclear whether criticisms levelled at the general Bookmaking population apply to the Operators’ bookmaking business or not.

I confess that I struggle to understand that Bookies supposedly do a roaring trade out of horse racing betting averaging a gross profit return on turnover of 11%, whereas our Operators seem to post a loss on the same product when they average a gross profit return on turnover of 25%. But I admit that I am certainly not in possession of all the facts on that score.


Then it came to light – almost inadvertently really – that Phumelela had made application to have some of its gambling licence conditions changed. These applications had already been made towards the end of 2011, but the exact wording of these applications only came into general circulation a few weeks ago, sparking yet more questions, including whether or not there was an intention to sell Turffontein. I asked Phumelela for an explanation, which to their credit, was forthcoming (thank you Patrick Davis), but unfortunately did not tally with the information set out in the Applications and subsequent queries have gone unanswered.

More licences

There may or may not be a problem with our racing operators offering sports betting and the RA seems to have waded in and taken sides on this one.

The Sowetan

We saw a rather ugly article published in the Sowetan dealing with the state of grooms’ accommodation at Turffontein. This is of course a subject repeatedly raised by Mr Ian Jayes, which dates back to the pre-corporatisation days and a large grant made by the HRDF for stabling and grooms’ accommodation at Newmarket Racecourse. Phumelela’s Andreas Heide issued a statement saying that Phumelela had reviewed their financial records for the past decade and found that Phumelela “has spent in excess of R24 million in upgrading and maintaining these facilities. The obligation has accordingly been met and any further debate is simply a moot point.” There have been meetings called with the Gauteng and the Cape trainers, so perhaps we may still receive further clarification on the matter.

Thuli Madonsela

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela
Thuli Madonsela Public Protector South Africa 2014

We also found out that the Public Protector found a prima facie case of malpractice and improper conduct and has instituted a probe into horse racing affairs. Apparently Thuli Madonsela’s office is questioning the validity of the MOU drawn up between the provincial government as represented by Jabu Moleketi, the then MEC for finance and economic affairs, and the members of three turf clubs in Gauteng in June 1997. We understand that the results of the probe may be expected at the end of September. It seems a certain Ms Phindi Kema may be involved, but as her name seems to conjure up the sort of horror reserved for a certain Harry Potter character, we will leave that there.

Racing Trust

On 21 August 2014 the RA issued a press release confirming changes to the Racing Trust board and announcing Mr Johann du Plessis (a non-executive board member of Steinhoff) as the new Chairman. When I finally managed to speak to Mr du Plessis, he informed me that he had not been confirmed as the new Chairman, but that the matter would be discussed at a forthcoming meeting.

Racing, It’s A Rush

We saw the launch of a new racing marketing initiative on 12 August 2014. I’ve had a look at their Twitter feed and a month later there have been 42 tweets, some buttons / badges have been issued to various people (with the odd spelling error) and the website has been updated.

Racing South Africa

Horseracing South Africa has closed down. Well, some of it has, as The SA Equine Trade Council (t/a Racing South Africa) has advertised for a new CEO with Peter Gibson’s move to the TBA. As part of RSA’s demise, the Kenilworth quarantine station has been acquired by Kenilworth Racing.

“Sales gate”

Sales Under The Spotlight

Following on neatly from that has been ‘sales gate’. Summerhill has withdrawn from the forthcoming BSA Ready To Run auction. Cape Thoroughbred Sales (who should perhaps consider changing their name to something a little less regional), has suddenly come over all ambitious and started announcing sales dates all over the place, including a Ready To Run on the very same date as the TBA sale. It seems rather an odd move and it is hard to know what to make of it exactly. There can be no mistaking that it is aggressive, but the reasons for the aggression are less clear and have been the subject of much debate. CTS has understandably proved popular with their guaranteed payment dates and big money sales incentive races. Interestingly, only one other auction house (Magic Millions) offers guaranteed vendor payment, but given the vagaries of the racing industry, the strategy is risky. Also, CTS have been quite clear that vendors and buyers contribute towards the big money stakes incentives.

The TBA have most certainly got their detractors and a lot of folks are arguing that competition is healthy and will force the TBA to modernise, streamline and become more efficient. These are certainly all good things and the new team are confident that matters are improving dramatically (I’m told that following the 2014 National sales, 95.6% of the proceeds were paid within 60 days and they were up to 98% by 90 days). However, one has to wonder at what cost. Chairperson Susan Rowett issued a very illuminating press release setting out some hard hitting sales facts. The TBA has long been our national breed organisation and they use proceeds of their sales to fund initiatives such as the Equine Research Centre, the AHS Trust, the SA Equine Trade Council, the Racing Fact Book, Thoroughpedia and the Equus Awards amongst others. Should the TBA head into oblivion, one wonders who will pick up the funding baton for these projects.

So where does this leave us?

So where does this leave us War and Peace article Favourstud

Folks following SA racing from abroad could be forgiven for thinking that we’re descending into chaos, if not all-out war – on several fronts. Racing has become rather schizophrenic because we try to be both a sport as well as a business. Horses are a leisure pursuit for me – the horse is where the magic lies and so I will always regard it as sport. Looking at it from that perspective, they say that true sportsmanship is knowing that you need your opponent because without him or her, there is no game. However, George Orwell said “serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.”

Which begs the question – are we playing a game, or are we shooting to kill?