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Eating carrots or caviar… things are looking up in Africa

The awesome conquests of the undefeated champion Black Caviar have again ignited the inevitable patriotically fueled comparisons between ourselves and everything Australian. With the sobering demise this past week of Air Australia, we are reminded that they really can’t be too much cleverer or better than us on an average day. And maybe things are just getting a little brighter in darkest Africa?

Aircraft running out of fuel just prior to takeoff, jets being repossessed and the collapse of a national airline. Sounds like another humdrum day in sunny South Africa, doesn’t it? Air Australia’s unceremonious crash this past week with losses running into tens of millions of dollars actually makes a mockery of our own self deprecating ‘Only In Africa’ mentality.

Because Australia really should be OK – they can play rugby and cricket and have a land mass some 32 times bigger than the United Kingdom! But we South Africans love to feign national pride with the crutch of a Castle or six around the braai-fire, while secretly believing that everything off-shore must just be bigger, that much better – and of course a few seconds faster.

A match between our own speed sensation Val De Ra and the Aussie equivalent is unlikely to happen in this lifetime for a variety of reasons that are just too meaningless and pointless to labour on in this forum. History, science, influence and red-tape have conspired to ensure that the speculation of who would have done what and worn the World Champion crown will be spoken about for years to come – and maybe it will only be answered in part and for sentimentality’s sake by these two great mares’ daughters whose paths may clash one fine day in the years to come -if fate so permits.

Fair enough, we are a few years behind the Aussies when it comes to horseracing as a spectacle – we hear that 40 000 attended Flemington on Saturday to watch their star make history and equal a century old record, while the clash was front page news and live on many of their tv stations. Val De Ra’s scintillating win at Kenilworth in January was seen by maybe 1000 people if we are lucky, and no it didn’t make the newspaper pages beyond the industry owned Racegoer insert – which like the stock market pages are not read by anybody not interested in bulls or bears – or horses, for that matter.

The proposed match race between JJ whatsisname, the Bass horse and Val De Ra didn’t happen because of budgetary constraints and a lack of competitiveness with the Bookies’ prices on the closely contested contest. But let’s get President Zuma to throw a few million into the pot for a bash at Black Caviar. Our first citizen did travel to Dubai to throw his plentiful weight behind the Export Protocol fight and this would only add credence to the cause and confirm his good intentions. It is such a pity that we don’t seem able to harness and grow what is staring us in the face but maybe Dennis Drier and Pippa Mickleburgh may yet have something up their sleeves for the racing world?

There were two other positive snippets this week that I thought worth touching on.

Gauteng feature season

The Gauteng feature season gets under way this Saturday with the running of the R1 million Gauteng Guineas and the R500 000 Gauteng Fillies Guineas and it is heartening to hear that Tellytrack have made serious moves to bolster our viewing pleasure with the introduction of a mounted interviewer to take viewers from their couches into the heart beat of the race.

Bon – the ideal man for the job

Bon mounted for a canter down along side the jockeys, for the Gauteng feature races.

The instantly recognisable freelance media man Andrew Bon will be donning his jodhpurs and velvet jacket and utilising the ‘dead time’ between the departure from the parade ring and the load into the stalls to bring punters up to speed on the very latest – how the horse cantered down, and to capture the mood and confidence of the jockey with the race only minutes away.

The trial run of this added extra went smoothly at the Vaal last Thursday and it was positively received by the jockeys – with Piere Strydom his cynically reserved self, his assessments always seemingly bordering on why he is riding the wrong horse!

Bon says he is excited and looking forward to being able to contribute materially to the excitement of the big days and he says much groundwork has gone into making it all happen: “It has been a long time in the making and plenty of effort in putting it all together. The logistics, the logic and the permission from the various stakeholders involved in the process all finally came together. We obviously had to get the buy-in from the Stipendiary Stewards, the NHRA and the racing operator.”

Bon is certainly the ideal man for the job. An accomplished television producer, cameraman and capable horseman are not qualifications found readily on any one individual CV, and he says he was also fortunate to source the right horse with the necessary temperament: ‘’ The horse I will be riding is BA, a retired thoroughbred from George Scotts’ yard now enjoying his days with Mike Allen, a former instructor at the Police Mounted Unit. He is a lovely natured animal and will make my job easier. I am sure it will work well and I hope to instill confidence in both the jocks and the racing public alike.”

R6,5 million for the Triple Crown features

So it is all said and done for the big three meetings – the Guineas, the Classic and the Derby- of the Phumelela Summer-Autumn Feature Race Season running from February to April. Offering a not to be sneezed at R6,5 million in prize money, it features the Triple Crown for the boys and the Triple Tiara for the girls, carrying R2 million and R1 million bonuses respectively.

The final legs of the Crown and Tiara will be run on the last Saturday of April and includes the R2 million Champions Challenge. This is effectively the richest raceday on the African continent.

Customer Survey – but no branding?

Another pleasing positive to emerge this week was the Customer Survey form being dished out at Kenilworth on Sunday. While this would be no big deal in any other industry, it is an historic small step in the right direction for a regime that has seldom shown any interest in what the average Joe feels or thinks. It is early days yet, but the take it-or leave it approach of yore may well have been cast into the dark past if the intentions behind the questionnaire are honourable. And why should they not be?

While the form lacks a return address or completion date and is not branded with any corporate logo, it is a positive that bears a mention. It is rather odd that the RA or Phumelela did not jump on the credibility and free positive publicity bandwagon and emblazon it with their logo. And the real test will come in time when the information will be analysed and acted upon. It would be interesting to make the results public too. Or is that expecting too much? But it remains a first in South African horseracing, and for that somebody deserves real credit.