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Horse Racing In Kenya

A view from the other side

“Ngong must go” dated 1st June 2011

Writing in regard to the scathing criticism “Ngong must go” I believe the criticism completely ignores the circumstances that we have to cope with in keeping horse racing in Kenya alive and active.

These circumstances include the following:

  1. Racing facilities are handicapped by a severe lack of funds. The starting stalls for example are over 20 years old.
  2. The prize money for a winning horse is R2200. This equals one months payment for training, etc.
  3. There are only some 200 horses in training
  4. Getting major long term sponsorship is a real headache
  5. Kenya racing is largely managed by volunteers. This applies to the the Stewards of Racing, the programming, the handicapping, the Stipendiary Steward, etc. Lack of finances greatly constrains the staffing than can be employed and as a result they are expected to deliver outputs that go beyond their training and experience.
  6. We have no riding school for apprentices

So why do we persevere in keeping racing going. Firstly it is a business that employs a significant number of persons in the form of grooms, work riders, riders, breeders and their establishments, etc.. To let it go, would have a real impact on the livelihoods of hundreds of families, in a situation where employment opportunities are lacking and poverty is still a problem. Secondly Kenya has a long tradition of racing and there are sufficient owners and others that are still passionate enough to want to keep racing going, even though it means digging deep into pockets.

Ngong Racing

Horse racing since 1904

Despite these drawbacks, I believe we do reasonably well. Yes the race watched by your writer is not what we like to watch either. But bad days and bad races do occur, despite our efforts. Of the 128 races run this season so far, 112 have been run on time. Where we have been late for 8 of the races we have resumed punctuality by the next race. Only twice have we suffered a knock on delay. Yes we can be criticised for allowing perhaps longer than some race courses would in getting an obstinate horse to load, but within reason we do our best to have owners see their horses run. It is interesting to note that the UK have adopted our approach this season in allowing more leeway in getting horse loaded into the stalls. However in order to try and get every race off on time, we have tightened up our starting stall certificate examination and we recognise that the starting team would benefit from more training.

We also recognise that our standard of riding does not compare to South Africa, not least because we have no training facility. But we have introduced hands and heels races, we are severe on misuse of the whip, we insist on riding each horse on merit. We of course deal with interference similar to South Africa and we bring jockeys into the Steward’s room for not riding straight, when no interference has occurred. We are seeing some improvement, and we will continue to strive to get more improvement. We don’t like seeing a jockey lose a stirrup iron, and that is the first time we have seen it in the home straight. The very few times it occurs is usually in the starting stalls.

Rather than take my word for it, we would be very happy to invite your writer to come to Ngong and watch our racing first hand. Perhaps they would then be persuaded that we are worth encouraging in keeping our racing going.

– Nigel Hunter,  Stipendiary Steward, Ngong Kenya

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