The abandonment of the official Sun Met public gallops and the decision to host the invitation-only barrier draws at an off-course upmarket venue are probably not the ideal loyal ordinary-customer route to follow to cement Joe Public’s relationship with a sport that is crying out for a market that it once almost owned.
The Met gallops have been a longstanding big-race lead up tradition.
While not quite up to the racing-crazy KZN sticky-bun standard of the well organised Durban July event, where taxi drivers and barmen are the true ambassadors, and ‘what you fancy?’ street-corner talk is a way of life, the Cape public were nevertheless able to see the stars in the flesh, debate the merits of their fancy, have a complimentary cuppa something – and maybe even pull a free ticket to see the big race.
The Met gallops came under fire last year when a Gr1 owner lambasted the organisers for practising old-fashioned segregation.
The 2017 Sun Met gallops were well attended by the public, who braved the unseasonal burst of wet weather to watch what has become an increasingly popular event. However, it can’t be said that the punters were exactly received with open arms. Made to wait until after the gallops before being ‘allowed’ upstairs, the ‘public’ was segregated from the Met runner connections throughout the proceedings with a cattle type barrier separating punters from trainer/owners.
Fast forward ten months and Phumelela are now suddenly only too happy to dump this logistical pain in the rear ‘in the best interests of the horse’.
Kenilworth duty manager Teresa Esplin said in November last year: “The trainers don’t want these gallops which are a bit close to the race – but also we are doing this in the best interests of the horses. Every time you travel them to the racecourse you are putting them at risk and some of them can get stirred up.”
A case of when the cap fits?
Top trainer Justin Snaith, one of the biggest critics of the Met gallops, added: “This is the best news I’ve heard all year. Apart from anything else nine days beforehand was too close to the race.Indeed if people want to see the horses gallop they can see them in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate as many of them also take part in that.”
It is difficult to argue with the seasoned horseman. The Snaith family earn their livelihood out of the success of the game and run the best marketing team in town. If it was good and right, surely they would be behind it.
So must we assume that the decades long July gallops will now also be consigned to the scrapheap of history?
As an aside, France Galop have in the interim become something of a dictatorial force – there is always place for one more it seems – in South African horseracing, telling us where to race and when. And then, after shattering our long established mental weekly punting timetables, also subjecting our local punters, owners, trainers and jockeys to ridiculous intervals between races.
To justify the move of the original Kenilworth 17 January Wednesday meeting to Thursday 18 January at France Galop’s instigation, Phumelela told – on their website – that the gaps between the races would present ‘perfect opportunities’ to do the Met day feature race draws.
After that dubious justification – we have stronger words for it – the draw ceremony suddenly moves to an invitation-only off racecourse venue. And the loyal long toiling local punter, summararily excluded, is expected to pitch up at Kenilworth 24 hours later for a nine-race card that gets under way at 12h10 on Thursday, and ends at 16h40. To be fair, that’s earlier than the last one we were subjected to.
Then what of Met host Usain Bolt?
The man labelled as ‘a world-famous athlete with a penchant for French champagne guaranteed to inject the party spirit into the sophisticated soiree’ by Weekend Argus, is a sporting icon and a global legend – but also a well-paid drawcard.
On reflection, one wonders how we attended the Met for all those years in the 20th century without a sideshow? Maybe it’s because it was simply for the fact that we would not miss it for anything – and the heroes were the horses. the jockeys and the trainers. Never mind either that the atmosphere was bloody electric!
Who is the genius behind this new-age marketing ‘strategy’ overwhelming the sport of kings – and what does it really do for racing? They can’t give the everyday soldier a simple Super Punter card or basic loyalty reward, yet have this obsession with celebrity. Maybe it’s desperation – but something just doesn’t add up.
Surely it would make sense to find 5000 lifetime punters and get them to Kenilworth on 27 January?
Chasing high-rolling social climbers and no-name celebrities, who pitch for a once or twice a year orgy of fashion, booze and music, just really doesn’t make any sense as a medium term fix.
But you have heard this whinge before…
And what of the guy who always runs last – Joe Punter?
He’ll turn up at the usually shabby local tote as he does most of the 364 days of the racing year to try and win a fractional PA.
We bet – no pun intended – he knows more about Fairview on a mid-month Monday, how to work out the price of a 1% quartet, has heard of guys like Stanley Amos, Dana Siegenberg and an honest champion called Politician – and so much more about this great game than this new generation would ever care to.
So, just to recap:
- Once upon a time, public gallops were a condition of Met entry.
- These gallops were abandoned mid November – due to ‘demands by trainers’.
- France Galop moves a Kenilworth midweek meeting from 17 to 18 January.
- Phumelela say that’s convenient – let’s justify the drag and do the barrier draws between races
- Less than a week ago, barrier draw invites go out – and now it’s at a shopping centre – but 24 hours earlier than mooted.
- The venue has not been publicised to Joe Public. Why? Surely they want the world there?
- And is it one of those cattle type barrier affairs again? You know – a puzzled Joe Public at 14h30 on a Wednesday afternoon watching larneys sipping champagne while doing funny lotto type draws?
The Sun Met declarations are due at 11h00 today.
The barrier draws will be done at a function on Wednesday. They are live on Tellytrack (Dstv 239) from 16h15.
And in case you are wondering, you are not invited.