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Summer Season Slump

Where Is The Cape Sizzle?

Ice cream

Where is the sizzle in our Cape summer season?

In this day and age when attendances at race meetings are falling faster than our betting turnover, the perennial problem of how to market the sport – and how to market it to a new generation of racing enthusiasts – is an on-going and persistently problematic one.  An interesting experience with some telemarketing companies got me thinking.

A little service goes a long way

It seems one now gets calls trying to sell you anything from car to funeral insurance.  While the odd one is OK, one tends to lose your sense of humour when you progress to several of the wretched things a week.

There are a number of websites and discussion forums on the subject offering all sorts of creative solutions.  As it’s that time of year, one of my favourites is to hand your phone to a 5yo and tell them it’s Father Christmas.  I like to have some fun and take on the telemarketers at their own game and try to sell them something back.  I recently got pretty close to talking someone into attending a sale.  True story.

As I dislike companies using my personal information to invade my privacy, I like to escalate the matter to a manager and lodge an official complaint and it’s resulted in some interesting experiences.  One company was fast, efficient and polite, listened to my complaint, apologised abundantly – and more importantly immediately – skilfully diffused my ire and did their best to be of assistance (it turns out you can deregister yourself via the National Opt-Out Database –www.nationaloptout.co.za), leaving me very positively disposed and likely to recommend them and their services to others going forward.   Another company has been nothing but obstructive, rude and dismissive, creating a much more protracted and unpleasant experience (on both ends of the line) than had they simply resolved my initial complaint on the spot.  What started out as mild irritation, led to being convinced that I never want anything to do with their company or their services as long as I live.  Moreover, I will happily advise anyone who will listen to avoid them too.

The point is that it is incredibly easy to swing things either way.  Which leads me to look at some super (as well as some not so super) recent examples from racing.

The good, the bad and the downright ugly

We’ve got the cart in front of the horse

Firstly, let’s talk transport.  There have been distinct rumblings on the horizon that all was not well when Choice Carriers’ name disappeared from the Fillies Championship on 28 October without a word of explanation.  Then came the 11th hour notice from Kenilworth Racing that there would be a new transport contractor as of 1 December.  As the announcement came a whole three days before the changeover, and listed the new supplier as an entity no-one had ever heard of, it was pretty much guaranteed to raise questions, never mind hackles all round and instead of inviting in the new incumbents, everyone got rather good and cross, and everything got off on the wrong foot.

No-one is taking issue (or sides) with either of the transporters.  Without facts (always in short supply) one cannot take issue with the presumed logic behind the decision to change.  However, what one certainly can take issue with, is the way the matter was handled, which has left absolutely everyone on something of a sticky wicket. Suffice to say it will not go down in history as an example of how to make friends and influence people.

Summer Cup Wash-Out


Rain, rain, go away

Then we had Summer Cup Saturday-turned-Sunday.  While no-one can help the weather and losing a race meeting affects all of us, the heavy going was to prove even more treacherous on the Tote as the well intentioned idea of adding the Joburg feature to the Cape ‘menu’ resulted in the systems crashing for the day, causing untold irritation and aggravation.  I happened to be on course at Kenilworth for the Western Cape Equine Trust race day and as it was a charitable event, everyone donned their best blitz spirit and tried to soldier on as brightly as they could, but races were delayed, horses got confused and worked up, and there was not even an explanation offered, let alone an apology.  Which was tragic as while the racing fraternity turned up in numbers to support the charity, there were a good few Joe Normal folks invited to the day as well.  What must they have made of it all?

Races go missing (RIP Jet Master Stakes), meetings get moved to just about any old day – and time – of the week to accommodate a foreign (in all senses of the word) programme and while we’re on the subject of programmes, there never seems to be more than about 5 race cards to be found on course for any given race meeting.  Now before I get in trouble for having a whinge, this one actually isn’t selfish at all as I’m reasonably capable of picking out a good number of horses on sight, and even if I can’t, am perfectly capable of enjoying an afternoon’s racing without having to know the name or breeding of the horses that win.

However, there is someone at the course who needs a little more information and that’s the punter, who is constantly encouraged to bet bet bet.  If you go to a restaurant, you are offered a menu.  How are people supposed to bet without knowing what’s running?  I realise that most people have access to smart phones nowadays, but are we expecting people to bring their own race cards?  It’s honestly starting to feel as though we don’t want people at the course.

Fillies Guineas Flop

Why no name panels? (photo: Chase Liebenberg)

The next big feature race day was the much loved Cape Fillies Guineas on 2 December, with the Cape Merchants and Green Point Stakes sharing the billing.  There were visiting trainers and jockeys from all around the country, eye-wateringly, stupendously exciting horses, our dual Horse of the Year making his Cape seasonal debut and a will-she, won’t-she conundrum in the Fillies Guineas over Snowdance and yet another sterling effort from Snaith Racing who turned up fully loaded and produced 5 winners on the card.  What there wasn’t, was any build-up, any crowds or, far more maddeningly, any name panels on the number cloths.  I’ve previously raised the matter with a member of the Kenilworth team and was informed we get name panels for sponsored races only.  Well, the Fillies Guineas is a Gr1 and it was sponsored by World Sports Betting (who also sponsored the Merchants and Green Point Stakes), so we can safely tick that box.

I checked the form for Gauteng Guineas day (also run under the auspices of Phumelela) and oddly, all of the Gr2 Wilgerbosdrift Fillies Guineas and the Gr2 Betting World Gauteng Guineas runners sported name panels on their number cloths.  So why no name panels for a sponsored Gr1 in the Cape?

The food trucks seemed to go missing en route to the course, leaving the day tripping unfortunates in the cobbled together ‘paddock’ area stranded and then I’ll hand out an award as it seems no-one else was doing it – my favourite faux pas of the day goes to whoever forgot to organise the trophies and BSA cheques for the post race presentation.  For the main race.  Ai karamba.

Elephant in the room

Elephant in the room

Elephant in the room?

Also, while it doesn’t seem the done thing to discuss it, there is a rather pressing mainstream news issue which is likely to have repercussions for racing.  Where is our leadership?  Not a peep from the Operator and not a peep from the NHA, with the Chairman, CEO and Racing Control Executive busy with presumably more pressing matters at Hong Kong’s international meeting.

The Southern Cross Stakes race day, sponsored by SW Securities (who seem terribly nice people), also produced some lovely racing.  But again, sadly no marketing and no crowds.

Our horses and horse people are undoubtedly all running their socks off.  What’s happening on the other end of the bus?

A few bright spots

Fortunately, there were also a couple of bright spots to lend hope that there are still people with a grip on the fact that the best way to win new fans (and keep old ones) is simply to treat people well.

Emmanuel Teunissen (photo: Varsfontein)

Emmanuel Teunissen (photo: Varsfontein)

The first was Varsfontein Stud’s incredibly kind gesture in posting 4yo Emmanuel Teunissen, a racing fan with a particular soft spot for Bela-Bela, a surprise package of some photographs and a letter from their champion filly as well as a snip of her mane.  I can only imagine how much this meant and what an impression it is likely to have made – not only on Emmanuel, but on everyone who knows him.  It was not only incredibly kind, but it touched an upcoming generation and gave them an early, positive experience of racing and also paid dividends for the farm as the story has been shared several times over – as it well deserves.

The second win came from a young lady named Romi Bettison, who works at Moutonshoek Stud and who many of you may have met on visits to the farm or tending the Moutonshoek draft at sales.  Romi made the time and effort to show an enthusiastic young teen around the farm, allowed her to check off a bucket list item of sitting in a paddock and having a foal fall asleep on her lap and even let her young guest experience delivering a foal.  Again, a small gesture from one person with a life-changing impact on someone else.  There were shares, likes and positive feedback aplenty and well deserved too.  It’s people and gestures like this that put us all in a positive light and give us a reason to be proud of our community again.

It reminded me of an interview I read on Ed Sheeran.  Asked for the secret of his success he gave one of the most interesting answers I’ve read.  He says his father once told him the key to doing well is to work harder and be nicer than everyone else.  James Blunt was topping the charts at the time, so Ed got a copy of James’ work, recording and touring schedule and doubled it.  He also made it a priority to be as nice as he could to everyone he dealt with.  Seems to be working out pretty well for him.

Perhaps instead of ‘rushing’ around and oversized hospitality tents for one-off events for one-off visitors, we should just try being nice to people instead.

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7 comments on “Summer Season Slump

  1. Barry Irwin says:

    The elephant in the room has landed with a thud anticipated in these quarters for close to a decade. Time for a thorough house cleaning!

  2. Philip Goldberg says:

    Hi Robyn.Great article.
    Interesting to see you pointing out that the only sponsors they can get these days are bookmakers.(Makes you think).
    No wonder why you may not be Kenilworth Racing and the operators number 1 for their product.You call a spade a spade and tell it as you see it.
    If only it never fell on deaf ears and they took a leaf out of your book.
    There is just no reason to go to Kenilworth.
    Sadly my annual visit will take place in the next few weeks when family and friends visit the Cape.
    Otherwise, no reason to go.
    PS:Are you going to arrange to have the elephant painted white???

  3. Basil Nelson says:

    I stopped buying a racing and breeding magazine from the UK because the contents had shifted heavily from the horse to the celebrities and people who participated or attended race meetings. Major race meetings have exactly the same problem today and serve virtually no purpose in promoting the sport and industry that we love. Social media only supports the “who’s who” of the social ladder and no wonder the R6 punter has no encouragement to attend race meetings for some humble entertainment. Their other alternative for them was TAB branches of which there used to be at least 3 or 4 in central Cape Town , I wonder if even one exists today! Surely these forgotten supporters should be encouraged back into the sport and should be able to survive side by side (or separately whichever they desire) with the social celebrities which our sport promotes.

  4. Ian Jayes says:

    A good article making some very valid points. Things have changed a lot over the past 50-odd years and some of the changes have not been for the better. The grandstands in those days were open and divided into members, owners and trainers and public. All racegoers would mix, go to the parade ring before races and then walk back to the grandstand. They would brush shoulders with owners and trainers and the wealthy. The clubs in their wisdom decided to enclose the grandstands making a huge divide between racegoers. The installation of CCTV at the tables ensured that very view ventured beyond the glass and a lot of the atmosphere on the racecourse was lost. We need to get the atmosphere back again and start making it easier and better for the customers (racegoers) to enjoy themselves. For instance, the Vaal racecourse is off the beaten track, so in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s a special train was laid on for racegoers and the racecard was their train ticket, the train would terminate at Viljoensdrif station and the racegoers would walk from there to the racecourse. Without that the Vaal would have had very few people on course. As there were no off-course totes in those days it was imperative to encourage them. We need a similar mind-set today and for starters the racecard (Computaform) should be made free to everyone on course. Big punters could also be given Gold-Cards, entitling them to special facilities and free lunches.

  5. Leon Smuts says:

    Mr Jayes, I share your nostalgia for big on-course attendance but we live in an era where there are more fitting entertainment for the younger generation so will probably have to accept that racing in it’s current format will not hold much of an attraction.

    Racing needs to digitize and socially engineer new offerings that will appeal to younger participants and make involvement more exciting and competitive. The sport needs younger interest and bigger appeal to the fairer sex if it is to re-establish historical prominence.

    This objective would be achievable with a more accessible platform and a product offering that could match the excitement of individual races with an afternoons affordable entertainment and a new interactive experience.

    There are numerous things that could be done to expand racing’s appeal but the bottom line is that it starts with understanding the future customer base and having a genuine interest in their enjoyment.

    The stands could one day be alive with excitement again but only if customers could regain pride of place in service, system and product decisions.

  6. David James says:

    I can not believe that today Thursday , we are two days from probably the most important 3 Year old race in the country.

    Thank you to the Sponsors and Racing oppetators for showing such huge respect to the history and past winners of this great race.

    You have once again done a shown your true colours as to your total disrespect to all of the past that gave their souls to this game.

    Absolutly disgustig. I hope Western Cape Racing and Phumalela are very proud of themselves.

    The only way we can get back on track in the next 5 to 10 years is to get rid of the Rot that is embedded in these orgamization and keep showing the public, connections and members thw Middle Finger.

    Kharma is a B.t.h we warned them. and once again we are warning them again.

  7. Kay says:

    Racing has become a lottery. Poor, pathetic and mediocre low low MR handicaps and maidens day in day out most of the time. As a racegoer you lose interest as there’s no more talk about horses, Young or new people will not want to lose their money in cold-blood. Educate racing to people via print and social media. (Not just via tellytrack and racing publications as these only target the existing punters). Have advertisements and little snippets throughout the week on television ..SABC and Pay Channels. The Cape Guineas is this weekend so why can’t it be part of the sport’s news during the main news bulletins? (Not only tellytrack).
    Just wondering.
    Make it exciting and have affordable packages to entice people to own a share in a horse even if the Jockey Club must subsidize fees, but make this known to the general public and once again educate them about the excitement of owning a horse! I know some trainers do offer these schemes but generally it’s still too high for the average Joe Punter. Have lucky draws such as if people enter the gates they get a number at every race meeting, again make it known to people watching the news or prime time entertainment on TV and in newspapers and social media. The number get matched to the winning saddle cloth number in each race. If you get no.10 for instance and the number 10 wins 3 races then you as the racegoer wins on 3 occasions. There can also be a clause stating that in order to claim your prize you must show a losing/winning ticket that you have placed on that specific race. Start looking after the racegoer who come and support and boost pools by having a Valued Customer Card where they earn points for being on course. The more they come to the track the more points they earn. These points can then be used to enter meetings such as the LQP and Sun Met…race meetings the regular racegoer can’t afford to attend. This is seen as a rewards system. Another example could be lucky name draws of the participants on the day. If you get a name of a horse that wins or place then you receive the stakes paid out for the owner but your share comes from the racing authority. It might sound far fetched but worth a try. It’s sad to see Kenilworth racing empty and dead on big days such as the Fillies Guineas meeting, not to mention an ordinary meeting. Give people reason to go to the track instead of just sitting in the off-course totes. But then again Racing SA It’s A Rush are just interested in betting pools so full off-course totes and empty on-course spaces are quite fine with them….oops..forgot!.

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