After a tumultuous end to 2017, Martin Locke, sports fan, media man and life long racing enthusiast, says “If ever there was a time to stand up as a true racing fan , and fill the stands at Kenilworth ….IT IS NOW !!”
“How we long for days when racing was for the Thoroughbred… all started by the greats of the sport. The giant coal magnate Graham Beck was a true leader probably the greatest.
Breeding from his Kangra conglomerate of Noreen Stud, Maine Chance Farms along with Highlands Farm, Beck set the standard along with the likes of Mick Goss of Summerhill Stud, another extraordinary horseman, the Koster family … Wilfred…John ….to name a few . Senior statesmen of our breeding and racing ranks whose input can still be felt on our world class race tracks!
In those days the Administrators of the sport were led by Sandy Christie, Wally Segal, Basil Thomas, Dave Furness and and so on – true professionals. It was my honour to be SABC’s advisor and to help develop the sport and make it both accessible and available to the entire population through free to air broadcasts on Top Sport SABC1 every Saturday afternoon. This ensured that the magic of racing was broadcast into homes and townships and accessible to all. This task would not have been possible without the assistance of Robin Bruss, betting presenter David Mollett, and James Maphiri. The TBA through Graeme Hawkins and the expertise of producer/director Dieter Wohlberg completed a professional and packaged programme that broadened the appeal of the sport beyond just the cable service of DSTV, and ensured widespread interest.
I reflect on this because those were fabulous days which enabled us to grow our sport right up to the public interest level of rugby and cricket. In those heady days, it was simply unthinkable that this great sport could sink to today’s level in which there is no free to air broadcast and a controlled and narrow media that constricts rather than enhances the sport.
Racing is undoubtedly under pressure as it declines in the public consciousness – and the larger part of dissemination focusing on betting rather than the sport of horse racing. Is it any wonder that bookmaking betting on other Sports and on lucky numbers are now the growth areas? Those charged with safeguarding the sport seem more focused on the betting than on the Sport itself….
Given the Steinhoff debacle which has affected racing’s largest owner, Mayfair Speculators, as well as the talk of impending investigation into Phumelela and Mr Jooste’s role within it, racing is suffering much negative publicity. While it would be wise to sit tight and let the legal boys sort things out for now, there are questions that arise about the nature of the relationship between the betting operator Phumelela and those within the Racing Association whose task it is to protect the Sport. The fact that public interest, especially in the Cape, has been allowed to sink to current levels speaks much of a system that is currently failing the Sport – the participants and those who derive a living from it as well as those fans and punters in the public who feel marginalized. More importantly, the question must be asked – who will take up the reins to instigate a thorough audit and undertake some much needed house-keeping in order to put right what has gone wrong?
Big questions requiring big answers, but in the meantime, we were treated to a weekend of racing magic, a-la Gaynor Rupert as Gaynor and her fabulous team headed up by Katherine Gray delivered a top drawer weekend of racing at the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate festival.
When the Ruperts own an event they make sure their presence is felt and it is always worth being there.
Our owners, breeders, horses, trainers and riders came to the party and then some and it was yet another day for the memory banks. It was also evidence of the deep and abiding resilience of our community, who hardly missed a beat in keeping the show going.
Turning to the coverage of this exciting event, there was plenty of focus on being stylish and flamboyant which was quite splendid, but a little warning. The concentration on the social side, i.e. glamour, who’s who in the Zoo etc, I felt was over done. Presenters running here and there Willy Nilly to see how many they could get in to the sad exclusion of the jockeys and trainers – the main stars of the show.
It’s plainly obvious that the team are trying to give their sponsor value for money, but one has to be careful of over exposure of a brand.
Of course they deserve the maximum, but I was hauled over the coals once by the broadcaster for mentioning Rothmans 5 times in the entire day – I stopped counting L’Ormarins when we passed a hundred!
With the greatest respect to the Rupert Empire which we love having in our racing world, you must have a balance and the exposure of the the wine, women and song was a little too much.
That aside, the coverage on the day was fabulous and the fashion brilliant and it provided a welcome & much needed respite from the Speculators (if you’ll pardon the pun) wondering where he is, who else might be complicit and of course what the NHA is – or should be – doing to manage racing’s reputation in the face of all the controversy.
In The Sun
On a more positive note, J&B handed over the reins to the Sun group last year and the first Sun Met got off to a good start, with the promise of more to come, so I believe all is not lost. Our breeders, trainers , jockeys and Thoroughbreds have never been better and for that reason alone I am confident we will get over the current catastrophe of failing public confidence and interest.
However, our sport needs our support and that is why I call true racing fans to a call for action. We are resilient and we will overcome, but we need the sensibility to understand that racing is a game for all and there must be wider dissemination on television and other media. There has to be a willingness to change and to adapt if we are to prevent further decline.