There has been a serious buzz in the Horse Racing world with the much anticipated launch of the L’Omarins Queen’s Plate Festival of Racing over two days. Ambitious some were saying! Cape not supporting racing enough! I’m going to disagree, when you have the Rupert empire behind you, there’s a real chance of success, writes Martin Locke.
Gaynor Rupert’s love for this game has come at an important time for the industry. I think she started enjoying the sport through a friendship with Lindy Taberer, tasting the thrill of the adrenalin as your colours pass the post. Having worked for decades on racing in this part of the world and been part of a large committee representing the SABC and enjoying considerable success, there have been times when The Top Sport Bloodline Series with the Fillies and Colts Guineas, the J&B Met, Queen’s Plate, etc reached great heights. I strongly believe that with the resurgence of interest in the sport through the amazing horses we are breeding, fantastic jockeys coming out of the Academy and top trainers led by the brilliant Mike de Kock, we can stand proud in world terms.
Make use of what we have
We really ought to make more use of the likes of the Snaiths who work so hard on their style and image and surely attract their fair share of followers. And what about our jockeys? Our black and Indian players are having a massive impact on cricket and rugby and young people are rushing to these events. Racing has all the credentials with our jockeys, Muzi, S’manga, Grant, Aldo – there’s a big story here that we’re missing out on.
Look at the foray Johann Rupert has had into the rugby world with the purchasing of Saracens and the impact that has had for South African rugby players and for Johann’s businesses. His massive support for Golf – the Alfred Dunhill Golf Championship is one of the most cherished golf tournaments in the world and an invite to play at St Andrews is more than special! Ask Louis, Charl, Brandon and Ernie – it’s something Else!
But Johann goes much further, the big ‘in word’ these days is SMART and believe me, Mr Rupert is Mr Smart in business. He invites all the top businessmen who play golf, mix them altogether with the pros and you have a big win for Dunhill. Another smart move for all of us sport crazy people was getting Leopard Creek onto the European PGA tour, how’s that for monkey business, sorry I mean wild life! These are all wonderful ideas that racing can and should learn from.
But back to the racing. This year L’Ormarins’ ambitions were taking a giant step by introducing a two day Festival. The very fact that the sponsor had the courage to take this on at a time when racing is going through troubled times is quite amazing. As a tribute and a mark of thanks to the sponsor I decided to forsake my classic Kleine Zalze Sauvignon Blanc and partake in a glass of Antonij Rupert Wines’ Protea Pinot Grigio instead.
This Classic sponsor has always been the perfect one and the image had to match up to the event in every conceivable way. Kenilworth looked stunning – the sea of blue that hits you brings the exact touch Gaynor is looking for and it’s really the charm and warmth that she exudes herself. Now was going to be the test to see whether Tellytrack could produce a viewing package a-la the gracious Mrs Rupert.
As the opening shot of Kenilworth came onto the screen with the exquisite mountainous terrain of Stellenbosch in the background, I allowed myself a misty eye as I took in this distinguished racecourse that I have had the honour of being the front man for as long ago as the titanic battle between In Full Flight and Sentinel. I swallowed hard and paused for a sip of Pinot Grigio. Memories…
What I saw on the first day was promising. The production got off to a reasonably good start and all credit to the team who had made visible efforts to up their game with a roving camera to capture events as they happened. Unfortunately there were so many things going on – glamorous ladies, hairstyles, and so forth and with no cohesive planning, it all became very loose and bitty. It was obvious there must have been an instruction to cover the social aspect of the day on top of the usual racing offering, and I’m sorry to say I don’t think it worked all that well, but mainly from a management point of view.
There were often too many silences when the picture demanded an explanation, interviews with top racing personalities which were done with a view of the horses walking around the parade ring, but no discussion of the horses we could see in the background. In particular, an interview with breeding fundi John Freeman wandered off onto a tangent – talking about stallions was informative, but could have been just a little more helpful if it had been hung onto one or two of the horses that happened to be walking around the ring. Other points that Tellytrack will probably find themselves in trouble with on the day, are that there was often racing from other centres that was not previewed at all and with no warning or explanation we would cut to an international race, sometimes halfway through, some with commentary and some without. Again, it just didn’t feel very cohesive or tightly managed, but there most certainly was an effort and we did get a sense of occasion, so well done on that.
The Main Event
On the big day itself, with a little more of my Pinot Grigio from the fabulous Protea bottle, I’m afraid it was rather more of the same. Lots of good intentions, but a little lacking in the execution. L’Ormarins’ Queen’s Plate coordinator Katherine Gray and the work she does are extraordinary. She really adds a touch of magic and we should definitely find a way to use her more on the day. However, perhaps at appropriate intervals between races, rather than when we could be watching horses on parade or cantering down please, Mr Producer? We also had Neil Andrews interviewing the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and Sean Fitzpatrick just ahead of the main race. While a sports fan like myself is grateful for any time with our sports stars, not everyone trying to watch the racing is going to appreciate it in quite the same way at that particular juncture.
Also, the sound went completely and for 5 minutes we were left in complete silence. No apology, explanation and again, the interviews completely overran the slot that should have been allocated for providing information on the next race. While there was clearly build up and electricity in the ring, the viewer at home didn’t get to participate in any of it.
I’m trying to be fair about this and see both sides, but if we are going to try and do in racing what is being achieved now in cricket, then someone has to get hold of this and do it in the same way. Include celebs by all means, but shorter and sweeter and not when we are all dying to see the horses for one of the biggest races of the year.
Too much waffle
Now the next bit is a little difficult, but is again the culprit of what I think currently lets the whole production down and that’s production management. I’m not sure how you overcome this particular issue. Because of the brand and the day and all the big races and big names involved, the occasion lends itself to everyone getting excited – we had Anton Marcus winning four in a row, there are breeders involved, the British High Commissioner, Princess Eugenie (what a coup!), and while it’s important to show that, we need a producer to keep an eye on the time and say ‘listen guys, speed things up!’ When you have four good races together as we did on Saturday, running on with the speeches of one, impacts the preparation – and betting – for the next race. It would not be allowed at any other ordinary race meeting. The punters are where the money comes from, so give them what they want!
Also a note if I may to all our presenters who do post race interviews – we all know winning races like these is the thrill of a lifetime, but time is limited. We want to hear from the jockey, trainer and owner – and your questions need to be shorter than their answers! We don’t need presenters fawning to the extent that we know Granny is watching and uncle and aunt couldn’t make it. We love it and we appreciate it, but there’s just too much of it and frankly, it’s a bit of a turn off. If we want to change our image, we’ve got to keep it short, sweet and specific.
Cheese with that?
I’m not knocking him, but Neil Andrews the soccer presenter and Neil Andrews the racing presenter are chalk and cheese. At soccer, he’s professional, quick and humorous, but the moment it’s Neil the racing presenter, that’s where the cheese comes in (and sometimes it’s gorgonzola). And what I mean by that is sometimes I have to switch off the morning programmes because of how Neil and his colleagues talk to each other – there are too many jokes and innuendos and frankly there have been a few comments when they’re on with Julie that have hardly been respectful. It’s time to clean up our act. You don’t see that on any other sports show on the SABC or Super Sport. Look at what’s going on now in cricket and rugby – it’s fantastic. We need to lift our standard so that people will want to watch these shows.
On a positive note, it was a marked improvement on the Guineas coverage and what did seem to work well was Fiona who did several races on horseback again. Her mic was much better, although still not working all the time and the jockeys each had their own, which seemed to work better.
From a sponsor’s point of view, the day looked a huge success and what struck me was the vibe created by the beautiful people in all the special areas (perhaps next year we should look at inviting Prince Harry and his glamorous new girlfriend, one of the leading ladies from Suits, to do the presentations – I think they would have a ball!). It looked like an amazing day on course and as a lover of racing, that came over in a strong way. If only we could get the focus – and the timing – a little more firmly controlled, it could be improved by lengths.