2011 the Best and Worst of Times

The curtain comes down in a matter of days on another tumultuous and testing year.  The live theatre of South African horseracing produced its usual smattering of comedy, drama and tragedy with the horse always saving the day.  And while much has changed, one wonders if we really are any better off than we were twelve months.


Iam not going to regurgitate the events and history that are so fresh in our minds. We all have Google and that exercise, while a handy snapshot of a brief era, serves little purpose when the hearts and minds in control are as icy and concrete as they always were.

The dynamics of Public Relations have changed overnight with the advent of blogs, forums and the likes of Twitter. Peeve a customer off, and minutes later the whole world knows his side of the story and is debating it.  There is no time for dithering by way of  tabling the matter on the agenda of a future boardmeeting or for a fingers tapping on desk five days of procrastination.

And that is where the racing operators have fallen even further behind in 2011. The biggest single issue that comes to my mind when reflecting back on the past year is the overriding lack of customer empathy and communication with the people that really count. Those people are the punters, owners and to a marginally lesser extent the media.
In fact, only one man that I am aware of was graced with the courtesy of a response to an issue raised in the year of the Rabbit. That man was trainer Ian Jayes, and the respondent was Phumelela CEO, Riaan Du Plessis. Unfortunately Mr Du Plessis did not maintain his new found responsivenesss and despite a few readers banging out letters to the Sporting Post mailbag in the aftermath of the admittedly shock reply, things went deafeningly quiet.

Racegoer Journalist David Thiselton and Hollywoodbets Accountant Basil Thomas also slugged it out for a month or two over the role of the tote versus bookmakers, and both deserve a boquet for defending what they believe in . The greatest pity is that Thiselton was speaking with the obvious veiled blessing of his Gold Circle bosses, yet that same company seldom, if never,  leaps to the defence of matters that are raised almost daily and could surely be rationalised in the public domain, in the very best interests of the sport.

Mike De Kock

A story that springs to mind here is our Equus Award winning colleague Robyn Louw’s recent ‘expose’ of the apparently callous eviction and obliteration of the Cape Hunt and Polo Club’s long history and existence with the dull thud of a bureaucrat’s rubber stamp late in the year. The Club was the nursery that spawned some of Cape horseracing’s great characters and horsemen and women,and has an inexorable link and synergy with the development of Western Cape Racing. This story should have already elicited a public clarification as it is close to many hearts. Instead the ultimate end result after the deafening silence is that the extraordinarily talented Ms Louw is likely to receive a few  less votes than she did this year, when that Equus Panel sits down to adjudge the 2012 Racing Journalist of the Year. That’s how it works, Robyn.

The Gold Circle provincial divorce or demerger is also now well advanced it seems and while the manner of the publicity surrounding this important event can probably be criticised, the end result appears to have been effective. But who and what were Purple Capital in the end? A phantom or a proposal that warranted more attention? Who knows? We are unlikely to ever know and the rise of Phumelela in the beautiful province will be the proof of the pudding and the truth will out.
The sad closure of the Scottfreeracingwebsite(SFRW)  this week is another body blow to transparency and freedom of speech in the Sport Of Kings. The forum was a groundbreaker in terms of its unharnessed, non-commercial approach and broke a host of new stories and myths in its short life. The African Betting Clan may have seen the SFRW as a thorn in the side, but Steve Reid’s brainchild may yet prove to be a boon to the ABC in terms of the chartering of virgin protocol waters. The ABC certainly has more bite in recent months and the slanging matches of months gone by has been replaced by  a refreshingly constructive approach on many subjects. Sadly, the racing gods only visit the forums and read what is said. They do not yet find the mortal will to respond and provide information.

Princess Victoria

The continued bungling and censorship by Tellytrack is also an aspect that showed no improvement this year. Ken Rutherford took over as boss-man at the troubled racing broadcaster and there has been absolutely no visible impact – other than the launch of Dave Mollett’s very informative chat show, World Focus, and the excellent documentaries compiled by Jimmy and Aidan Lithgow for the Inside Racing show. The censorship scissors that are used so liberally need to be tossed into a bottom drawer, and if Mike De Kock or any other party wishes to express an  opinion or say anything, then they should be allowed to and be answerable only to the respective policing bodies of the sport and the law of this open and free country. Gary Lentin may argue that.

The technical glitches at Tellytrack are also a nightmare and when one reads unchallenged suggestions on the ABC that the Rivonia backroom boys are all computer game whizz-kids, then what are we supposed to believe or think? It would certainly make a lot of sense and explain plenty of the comedy that gets fed us!

The shenanigans at the KZN starting stalls need to be sorted. The stories coming out of there about unhappiness and incompetence, bad attitudes and just unbelievable turning of heads by the powers-that-be need to be remedied. It effects us all and Boxing Day was yet another example of it.

Then our beloved State President led a delegation of power-players that included the likes of Mike De Kock, Peter Gibson and Hassen Adams to Dubai to discuss movement protocols and AHS restrictions on horse movement internationally.  Was it all hot air again, or will we be celebrating progress in twelve months hence?
Will the ghost of troubled heavyweight jockey Andrew Fortune return in 2012? The man who beat all the odds and became a symbol of hope for a lost generation, has disappeared from our radar screens and threatens to make the umpteenth comeback. He  has got to take the title of the ‘most stood-down jockey’ of the year and will 2011 go down as the last year we had the pleasure of watching this brilliant jockey?   I hope not.

Justin Snaith

Let’s just be thankful for the great horses and the competitors that made 2011 memorable.

Igugu came out and won the Vodacom Durban July and eclipsed all before her. Val De Ra beat the best sprinting males in the Computaform Sprint and looks headed for foreign shores early in the new year. Mike Bass’What A Winter could also be on a jet-plane soon after bouncing back to his best and winning the Diadem in style. Var’s best son Variety Club single-handedly changed the world for his sire and his connections when winning the Guineas. What a run it has been too for Cape trainer Joey Ramsden. The Brit has won practically every feature race and looks a shoe-in for Cape Champion Trainer come July 2012.

And what about the Kotzen’s Princess Victoria? The daughter of Victory Moon has captured all our hearts and imagination and 2012 looks unlimited at this point.

Then the young Justin Snaith continues to make  a name for himself. Team Valor’s Ebony Flyer carries the Snaith banner in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate a week from now. Will Mike De Kock take up the Snaith challenge and reroute his talented daughter of Galileo via the prestigious mile?

These are just some of the wonderful people  and horses that made 2011 great. Who needs all that other nonsense when we have them?

A happy and prosperous  2012 to you all.

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