A super quick solution to racing’s problems? The clash of the speed merchants at Kenilworth on Saturday was an unqualified success on many fronts, but we probably shouldn’t be getting too far ahead of ourselves in the race to win back the attention of Joe Public.
The R600 000 Gr1 Cape Flying Championship was billed as the race of the season – if not the decade. And understandably beyond the connections of What A Winter and JJ The Jet Plane, few could possibly have been disappointed with the outcome.
The extraordinarily talented Val De Ra ran the boys off their feet in a sweetly hyped spectacle of speed not seen in this country for many a year. And what a team she represents! And a team effort it certainly was. It started the day the late Avontuur supremo Tony Taberer signed the big cheque that signalled stallion Var’s long journey to the magnificent surrounds of the Avontuur Estate on the hallowed foothills of the Helderberg Mountains. It remains a work in progress.
The debonair Dennis Drier is the epitome of a gentleman racehorse trainer. Quietly spoken, unexcitable and always reserved, he exudes an understated air of confidence and class. And we would never have the cheek to question the significance of the fashion statement of his signal-red socks.
Stable jockey and regular jet pilot Alec Forbes is one of the best of his trade. But his name is not instantly recognisable as he has always flown below the publicity radar. Then there are the mares’ owner and breeders. The glitzy blue, red and white silks of Avontuur Stud, represented by the no nonsense but lovable Pippa Mickleburgh and the good-looking Taberer family, are world-leaders in the exotic art of producing fine wine and fast horses. A mortally toxic combination that statistically works better than love and marriage.
Simply put, the entire Val De Ra show is a wholesome sustainable package that horseracing should and could be selling to Joe Public – rather than the current focus and grabbing for dear life onto just one or two events in an entire year.
The concern is that this speed sensation story happened as a result of Dennis Drier, Mike Bass and Lucky Houdalakis accepting to run their stars in this Group 1 sprint for relatively mediocre prize money by international standards. It is coincidental, yet not unlikely that these champions ran in this feature. There are frankly not a helluva lot of other races for them to contest.
While the word ‘capacity’ is only used once a year, and then coincidentally on the last Saturday of January, to describe attendance at Kenilworth, the crowd that streamed through the gates to get their dose of speed on Saturday was infinitely better than that expected on an average summer afternoon.
But what brought them? JJ’s comical name? We suppose it helped that this coming Saturday’s J&B Met had been put on the back-burner by the powers-that-be. We had the Met public gallops on Thursday morning. But the racing operator opted to rather publicise the speed duel in their newspaper pages on Wednesday. That must have thrilled Brandhouse!
Or was it the unprecedented and historic promo initiated by the enthusiastic Andrew Bon on the SABC evening news on Friday? This was a coup of sorts for a sport that treats its’ own media like disposable clowns and enjoys no favours from the outside media – except maybe when a horse breaks a leg on July day.
For a change Tellytrack seemed aware of what was happening and gave us wall-to-wall coverage of the sprint and captured something of the atmosphere for those not there. The presenters in studio and on-course looked extremely smart too in their new sponsor kit. Could Interbet’s involvement be an unwitting turning point and a catalyst for some improvement at last?
According to their website, Interbet is a secure web based trading system that allows the public to bet anonymously online with all South Africa’s licensed bookmakers. The concept was formulated in 1998 and trading commenced in July 2001.
They cover horseracing from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Dubai and the UK as well as all major South African and International sporting events.
The trading application ensures high transaction turn-around time and is easy and fast to use. Interbet offers a real-time view of the market and allows for fast strike times. Apparently within months of its launch the vast majority of South African bookmakers were already making use of the Interbet system for all their bookmaker-to-bookmaker trade. They look like a professional outfit . They now have a vested interest to crack the whip and protect their good name.
Overall the sprint showdown was a big success. But the gross and undeniable reality of these marginally contrived surreal days is that they produce nothing sustainable.
The Pick Six and Place Accumulator combined turnover alone on the same afternoon at a humdrum meeting 2000km away at Turffontein, with no stars or drawcards to speak of, eclipsed the Cape meeting by R500 000.
It seems we have the horses, the trainers, the jockeys, the owners and the breeders. But there is still a lot of thought and planning required to get the winning mix.