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System Has Failed The Sport

Time For Real Racing People To Join Hands

Martin Locke (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Martin Locke (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

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 !!”

Graham Beck

Doyen – Graham Beck

“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….

Much Speculation

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.


Where were the main stars of the show?

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

Sun MetOn 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.

Have Your Say

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40 comments on “System Has Failed The Sport

  1. Pops says:

    If we say the jockeys and trainers are the main stars of the show then therein lies racing’s problems.

  2. Judith says:

    I would like to say here that so much of what Mr Locke says is true. But the sorrow I feel at the decline of this sport in this country is non-quantifiable. I am older and have scrapbooks (my own) of cuttings I kept years ago when the sport was front page news- Sea Cottage shot – Jollify in first dead heat – Yatagan Yetagen – 33/1 Chimborra with David Payne on top – all front page news. Now, nothing. Go to CNN – they devote so much space to horseracing – their latest list is of all the great races waiting for the world in 2018 – South Africa doesn’t feature, but the countries that do seem to love their horses – Australia came to a halt for Black Caviar, the UK had massive attendance records while Frankel was running – but Kenilworth? Zip. We talk about fashion, colours and champagne – the horse got lost somewhere.

  3. The Dark Duke says:

    I think that Mr Locke has come to the table far too late. Calls for change in racing have occured for over a decade now, where were you then? The Cape voted to acceot Phumelela as their saviours when a viable alternate, with a far better business plan existed. No. The Johnny come lately’s must join the queue and enjoy the harvest that you so mutely sow.

    1. David James says:

      I tend to agree with you The Dark Duke. I do not recall Mr Locke at the recent AGM’S of the Racing association or him representing an owner. I feel he lives in the past SABC style about 20 Years a go. Mr Locke’s article is very badly written I have read better letters of wisdom from the Sporting Post Mail Box .

      Judith The Horse got lost the day Racing was sold out to Phumalela and will continue to . There is not much we can now do about it for another year. So sit back and relax and enjoy the show.

  4. Kay says:

    Well written Mr Locke and Judith you are spot on!

  5. jc lee ching says:

    How right you are Mr Locke but alas the die is cast and racing is already on the steep and slippery slope. One has to pause and ask ” who is in charge of the clattering train? the axles creak and the couplings strain”

  6. Jurgs says:

    Martin Locke must be senile if he thinks that racing rivaled rugby and cricket in terms of spectator numbers. I recall the massive moaning from the verkramptes about allowing racing to be broadcast because of the immoral gambling. We all look at the past with rose tinted spectacles but let us not make out that racing outside of the big races was anything close to the major sports.

    1. Allan Preddy says:

      Well old chap, I can remember crowds in excess of 40 000 for the Holiday Inns, 85 000 at the Rothmans Durban July, should i carry on……oh forgot, there were over 240 tote windows open for betting at TRC in those good ol days

  7. Philip Goldberg says:

    Yes, Queens Plate is a great day.
    And I am sure that the Met will be a success as well.
    (Hopefully all resolved and no PSA boycott)
    I have been part of this for over 40 years.
    But I love the fact that neither the Western Cape racing officials, nor their Phumelela bosses, ever stand up after reading all this doom and gloom , and try to protect or argue the situation.
    Is there a plan of action?????

  8. Ian Jayes says:

    I think Martin Locke is looking back through rose-tinted glasses. At that time horseracing was the only legal betting game in town. There was no sports betting and the nearest casinos were Sun City and the Carousel north of Pretoria.
    While he is correct in asserting that there was more emphasis on the thoroughbred then than there is now, the managers Sandy Christie and Wally Segal did not do our racing much good.
    While these gentleman were in control stakes were at an all-time low relative to costs. Moreover, not only was Christie responsible for the ridiculous and destructive “ten unplaced runs” rule, but the OTA clubs Newmarket and Vaal could not get these gentlemen to agree to the introduction of the “Pick-Six” and it was only the threat to go ahead alone by using the software for the Vaal Bi-Pot that finally got agreement from Turffontein and Gosforth Park for the introduction of this bet.
    Horseracing was in a far from healthy state and was crying out for an official judicial inquiry. My efforts in trying to achieve this, resulted in me being unsuccessfully sued for defamation.
    Nothing much has changed and corporatisation has not produced the benefits that the gullible members and owners were promised it would. Under Phumelela the only real beneficiaries have been the shareholders as I predicted would be the case.
    The image can never be better than the substance and no amount of money spent on marketing will improve the state of affairs while this situation obtains.

  9. Deon says:

    https://www.businesslive.co.za/story/?resource_id=SENSIN_20180111014500_7 The payouts on the shares seem to contradict everything said.

  10. Pops says:

    Will the cavalry ever come thundering down the straight?And if it does who will be in it?

  11. Graham Martin says:

    I agree 100% with Martin Lock, yes the system has failed us! If you compare the current racing system with the previous racing format and handicapping system which one of the two would you prefer? Which one of the two systems in your opinion is more punter friendly?
    Take for example the winner of the Pininsula handicap this last weekend. Eyes Wide Open won the race with a merit rating of 99. His merit rating has now being increased to 108! This is higher than the two top weights Krambambuli and Milton who both have a merit rating of 107. This means that if the race were to be run again with the new merit ratings Eyes Wide Open would run closer to last than first! This horse has been punished to the extent that it will take many unplaced runs before this horse can become competitive again in a similar type of race.Is this fair? not only on the racing public but on the horse’s connections. Bunter Barlow won the Met in 2001 and his merit rating increased from102 to 105. Trademark ran 2nd in the same race and his merit rating increased from 103 to 104. This allowed both horses to be competitive again straight after the Met. Testimony to this is Bunter Barlow winning an AandB division handicap in his very next start a month after winning the Met! Not long after that Trademark was 3rd in the Greyville HANDICAP and then he won the Cup trial, also a handicap! He then went on to win the JULY HANDICAP which was a form win. The MET was a HANDICAP then. GET IT ? HANDICAP TO HANDICAP TO HANDICAP! Bunter Barlow also competed in the same races and ran just behind Trademark which was correct according to the weight difference between the two. Due to their GRADUAL INCREASE in merit ratings these two horses were able to remain competitive for a long time.If they were running in today’s racing system you would never have heard of them again, they would have been “also rans” The emphasis is on CONSISTENT FORM LINES and COLLATERAL FORM which you don’t get today due to the SYSTEM!

    1. karel says:

      Eyes Wide Open runs in the Cape Derby on Met day.
      Let’s see how he does there before you start throwing stones.

      1. Graham Martin says:

        The Cape Derby is a 3yr old Classic so it would be difficult to make a comparison. I think a big problem with inconsistent form is the current racing format where you have Handicap horses having to run in Conditions races due to the shortage of Gr2 handicaps. Obviously due to their merit rating handicap horses are not suited to Conditions races and therefore run nowhere.! Thus the inconsistent form. Later on when they do run in a handicap (if there is a handicap available at gr2 level) they run well with poor form lines (i.e Conditions races form) When is the next Gr2 handicap over 1800m to be run in this country? I will tell you, The pininsula handicap in a years time.

        1. karel says:

          Ratings are ratings, whether derived from handicaps or conditions races. It matters not.
          But we are clearly never going to agree on this.

      2. Graham Martin says:

        This one is for karel and tony. After correcting me on my handicapping skills and rightfully so I would like to raise the following. If Eyes Wide Open’s merit rating increased from 99 to 108 after winning the Pininsula handicap then surely this increase should only apply to the horses he ran against in the Pininsula handicap! i.e. Milton, Krambambuli, Horizon , The Slade etc etc. In the Cape Derby Eyes Wide Open will be running against a completely different field compared to what he ran against in the Pininsula handicap. (and i’m not arguing with anybody) I would like to know your views on this, it;s an issue that’s been bugging me for some time! It will be interesting to see what unfolds on Met day!

        1. Rod Mattheyse says:

          the rating adjustment should bring them closer together. If the race was run again, with the everything panning out exactly the same, except for the “new Weight” the eyes wide open should not best them that far, and in theory dead heat.

        2. karel says:

          A rating merely is a measure of how good a horse is (or isn’t).
          It is a general measure, and in essence a comparison to the rating of the ‘average’ horse in a population.

          To rate a race, performance of individual horses is made on a comparative level, using beaten lengths, weight carried, and age.
          This can be compared to the expected ratings each of the horses had before the race.
          The handicapper then needs to find a ‘best fit’ – meaning making an adjustment that brings together pre-race and post-race ratings a best as possible.
          Also used in this process are the pace of the race (without it you wouldn’t know how a race was run and in which way pace influenced the outcome).
          As long as all horses are rated in comparison to the ‘average’ horse, it doesn’t matter who they ran against when they earned their rating.

          An interesting illustration of this is how Sporting Post ratings for a new crop of 2yo’s is integrated into the ratings of the older horses.
          We have ratings for the average horse, by age and sex, and endeavour to keep those on the same level from crop to crop.
          This is done by racing centre, ie E-Cape, W-Cape, KZN, and Gauteng are all considered ‘populations’ in their own right.
          A new group of 2yo’s is given time to become large enough to give reliable collataral form, after which average/median ratings are calculated by sex.
          This makes it possible to adjust ratings of all horses by the same amount to the same level as the older generations – most notably ratings of the closest group, the 3yo’s.

          The present 3yo’s in Gauteng, KZN and W-Cape (each with between 260 to 300 3yo’s of either sex) have median ratings which differ by just 1 to 2 rating points. It is worth noting that handicapping for each centre is done by different handicappers.

        3. Tony Mincione says:


          I try to keep things simple for myself, and also I try very hard not to get drowned by noise.

          You seem to be wondering about how confident we should be when we take Eyes Wide Open out of the Peninsula Hcp (which is a rare 1800m open graded hcp) and then transport a rating of a single horse into a completely different environment (The Derby in this case).

          The way I look at it is as if the merit rating is an IQ. In the Peninsula the connections of EWO basically overfaced him. They had been 102 after winning the Premier Champ Gr1 in July, but then got dropped (re-accessed) to 99 after 3 consecutive losses.

          But that turned out to be wrong and EWO beat The Slade (a 4yo rated 96) Like an IQ though, a 100 IQ for a boy who is 6 years old and 100 for a man who is 30 years old, just means that both are exactly average for their age but is doesn’t mean that the 6yo is as knowledgeable as the 30yo. It does mean we expect the 6yo to be like the 30 yo when he gets there.

          In this case EWO received 2kgs from the Slade instead on the 5.5kgs he should have to make things equal for the age difference, and EWO still beat him 0.75 L. So EWO at 99, got the extra 3.5kgs (7 lbs) and the 0,75 L.. so 99 + 7 + 2 = 108. The point is we have SEEN EWO score 108 on this IQ test, if The Slade is 96, and if we can trust that he performed a 96.

          The Slade came into the Peninsula winning a hat-trick and earning ratings 85 – 92 – 96 and subsequently beat Horizon and Krambambuli. The 96 could even be even higher.

          So the question for The Derby is can EWO be 108? Of course, in fact he still “could be” anything. We don’t know how smart any of these horses might yet be, we know that they can get better for another year.

          So me the fun is giving horses their proper IQ as early as I find it and not be handcuffed like the official handicappers. But I never saw EYES WIDE OPEN coming (is that a pun?), and so I had a bet on The Slade.

          As you know, in handicaps the handicapper nobbles the clever ones to help the dumber ones keep up, an affirmative action for horses. Should we using the tools of merit to handicap? The question isn’t does our IQ test work, the question is should we be handicapping anyone in the high stakes races?

          As far as I know, no Gr1 race in the UK is a handicap. You may not even run a gelding in The Derby there. They have a purpose for the structure of their racing, and that is to have champions and to keep breeding a better horse. And people love to gamble on that. We are a breeding country too. We do need merit ratings as our compass, but do we need a July Handicap and a Summer Handicap?

          1. Graham Martin says:

            Well said, you’ve convinced me to become a punter once again! Everything that you’ve said makes sense!

          2. Graham Martin says:

            P.S. I also liked The Slade!

  12. The Outsider says:

    I agree with an expert punter like Graham Derek Martin wrt the current ‘punishable’ Merit Rating imposed on our racings’ future promising performers.

    1. karel says:

      The MR system in operation when Trademark and Bunter Barlow raced (2001, 2002) is the very same system as today.
      Even one of the official handicappers from then is still here today.
      Isn’t that interesting.

  13. Tony Mincione says:

    It’s an honour to be in the company of experts, the internet is wonderful. But I have no idea what you mean with regards to EYES WIDE OPEN. For a start, in the Peninsula Hcp he (with MR 99) was 2kgs under sufferance to the esteemed top weights. He then beat the one by 5L and the other by 10L. I would love to hear what rating people think he should get.

    I see Glen Kotzen mentioned they are going for the Met where 16/1 EYES WIDE OPEN will carry 54kgs, effectively up 2kgs to those two mentioned. KRAMBAMBULI (60kgs) is 40/1 instead of a more reasonable 100/1

  14. hilton witz says:

    so mr martin if eyes wide open met milton in a handicap over the same distance next week would eyes wide open have to give milton weight?

    1. Graham Martin says:

      According to the latest merit ratings yes Eyes Wide Open would have to give weight to every horse he ran against in the Pininsula handicap! But thanks to the SYSTEM you will have to wait untill next year same time to find out because there is no GR2 handicap over 1800m untill then! All the Gr2 races over similar distances are now CONDITIONS RACES instead of handicaps which means that all the placed horses that ran in the PININSULA handicap would be at a huge disadvantage if they ran in these CONDITIONS races thanks to the system. This is where the issue of inconsistent form lines comes in! If you notice not one horse that ran a place in the PREMIERS Gr2 also over 1800m a month earlier could find a place in the PININSULA HANDICAP! Unfortunately these horses have no option but to run in these conditions races because there ARE NO OTHER races for them to run in.!
      Thanks for your response, most appreciated!
      Graham Martin

      1. Graham Martin says:

        P.S. Milton’s merit rating stayed at 107, Eyes Wide Open’s merit rating increased from 99 to 108!

      2. Tony Mincione says:

        There is a case to be made to reform the handicapping system, but this isn’t it! The wfa for a a 3yo over 1800m in January is to receive 6kgs from a 5yo+ and 5.5kgs from a 4yo. No matter what race they run, Eyes Wide open will not have to give weight….rightfully so.

        A quick look at the Peninsula Hcp shows that if it was run today the weights would be Milton 60kg, Krambambuli 59, Our Mate Art 57.5, Elusive Silva 57, The Slade 55.5 and Eyes Wide Open 55kg, so still receiving weight from all, just not as much as WFA.

        The Premiers is a structured WFA with penalties The weights switched with Horizon and Krambambuli and so did the finishing positions. Platinum Prince dropped from 57.5 to 53 and he 3rd 2.75L instead of 9th 8.40L. The Premier and Peninsula represent WFA vs Hcp, but still even with Milton dramatic runs and Last Winter and Opera Royal missing, the logic of the two races still holds.

        1. Graham Martin says:

          ok Tony you are 100% correct and thanks for correcting me on my handicapping skills! No it’s not about me complaining about everything to do with horse racing! It’s about trying to bring about changes that are beneficial to the game! I know of too many punters that have lost interest in punting ever since the racing format was changed to the current one in use now. I believe that this is the underlying problem

          1. Graham Martin says:

            P.S. How on earth can you have a W.F.A. race with conditions and then the follow up race a handicap.! Obviously you are going to have a completely different result. Is this to confuse the punters ?

      3. Roderick Mattheyse says:

        Graham, your statement is not correct, you are not factoring in the WFA allowance

  15. hilton witz says:

    thanks rod i have read several of mr martins posts where he blames every problem in the world on the merit rating system but unfortunately doesnt understand it ..I ask mr miedema to please give him a link to the nhra site where it is explained how it works in full ..Also the handicapers cannot be blamed for the race program whereby there should be races for all horses whether handicaps or plate races …

    1. David James says:

      Well Said Hilton . My first thoughts were Karel why are you aurguing with someone that actually does not understand the system. Total lake of education or inderstanding .

    2. karel says:

      A link to the NHRA website where it is explained in full?
      What’s wrong with Sporting Post – this is on the front page of the website nogal: https://www.sportingpost.co.za/racings-secrets-revealed/
      Plenty to read for the uninitiated!

    3. Graham Martin says:

      it’s not that i don’t understand the merit rating system, it’s that i don’t agree with the merit rating system or the racing format in it’s current form! I strongly believe that changes should be made! But thanks for the feed back any way!

  16. joao says:

    Graham Martin, many people don’t agree with the merit rating system. Most of you though adore seeing SA horses racing abroad. So unless SA complies with the rest of the world and has some sort of handicapping system in place and not the old race figure system SA will be isolated. SA is a very small fish though in international racing so perhaps it will make no difference going back to the RF system and then only have to “rate” horses leaving our shores to compete overseas. BUT i fear that this will disadvantage those horses in the long run.

  17. Tony Mincione says:

    The merit rating system, while it can be applied with finesse or not, it here to stay. With all respect to experts, merit rating as we use it is basically defined as: “best fit collateral form with a length/distance based on 2lbs=1 length over a mile with weight-for-age”.

    And with respect to the naysayers, it has withstood the test of time over for over 150 years and has yet to be bettered by any syndicate with quantum computers or anything else.

    When introduced one must remember that it impacted on only 10% of our program. At the time about 50% of races were Maiden Plates, and handicaps about 20% of the rest. That has changed and now we have more handicaps because set weights favour a few and handicap weights favour the many at the expense of the few (more another time). But even that isn’t the problem.

    The real problem, in my humble opinion as they say, is when we lowered the bar so that handicaps fell below Maidens. It was (in race figure times) a fact of life that in major centres winning a Maiden could be your last race. For example, if you finally won a Maiden as a late 4yo trainers would often inform their clients that they had reached the end of the road and the horse would no longer be competitive.

    What happens then is that horses that would have exited course left, stay on and form a pool of horses who are rewarded for poor performances. Merit Rating is not to blame, but people. More specifically, political people who have rigged the system to make expensive/failed horses have a way to save face. The cost is more poor racing at the expense of less better racing.

    There are ways to combat this downward drift, but first people (not “the system”) need to acknowledge that this is a zero sum game: to get something on the one side, you have to take away from another.

    I’ll stop here, because it just goes on and on otherwise.

  18. Blue Peter says:

    The merit rating system has afforded the smaller stables to remain in operation. The majority of horses are rather average and the system keeps these stables competing on merit seeking stake money. I say, take weight off and bring them back to their field.

  19. Garrick Bergh says:

    Jeees…….You boys have really got my head spinning with all of this technical stuff! In the time that you have taken to analyse & debate the merit of a particular horse in a given race I could have bought a clutch of lottery tickets.
    Chances are we both end up with bus tickets at the end of it all!
    Maybe the once-a-year Met crowd has a point. Use a pin and order another glass of Mumm.

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