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Grooms – Solution Crucial

Social Issues, Politics & Economics - all in one

While there may be a semblance of truth in it, suggestions that the current protest action by Grooms is purely political mischief making doesn’t go anywhere to resolving a real and present crisis that faces the sport of kings in this country.


The harsh reality of the apparent washing of hands of any genuine enthusiasm and commitment to addressing pressing issues facing horseracing in South Africa has sadly seen the chickens come home to roost in drips and drabs over time, with Grooms protest action forcing the abandonment of today’s Vaal racemeeting.

What will be next?

While the issue has its roots as far back as 2010 – and maybe even further  – last month’s Randjesfontein wildcat strike action was followed by another boiling pot yesterday at the same centre.

Reports inform that security deserted their posts and hundreds of Grooms, armed to the hilt and apparently led by the Economic Freedom Fighters, threatened to release horses, take hostages and cause damage.

Last month a protest at the same training centre resulted in a serious knock for betting turnovers  and direct losses for owners and trainers – and ironically the Grooms themselves – as a Sunday meeting at Turffontein was badly affected.

At the root of the current grievances appear to be wages and living conditions at the training centre and reports are that there have been talks between certain leading trainers and leaders of the EFF to find a resolution.

As a collective, the Grooms are the industry’s single largest stakeholder sector and are employed by trainers. They are technically the responsibility of the individual trainer, their employer.

But the impact and knock-on effect of strike action, or a downing of tools, to give it a euphemistic slant, goes far beyond the hard-pressed individual conditioner and could eventually lead to serious complications for a rudderless industry battling to weather storms on many fronts.

With stakes not having kept pace with inflation and ever spiralling costs of feed and related support services, the stark economic reality is that in a shrinking market, few trainers beyond the top ten percent, are running profitable businesses – and the stable financial model of last century is an anorexic shadow of her former self as we reach the halfway point of 2018.

So how do trainers pay key staff more without simply increasing keep and possibly reducing the fast diminishing ownership pool?

In an ideal world, Grooms can be allocated three horses, rather than two, thereby adding to their direct value to the business bottom – line.

One option could be to increase the individual work allocation, but with no additional horses coming in, the negative spin-off in terms of staff numbers doesn’t require mathematical rocket science to calculate.

After the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Labour met with the Department of Labour and the Department of Trade and Industry to discuss matters affecting employees in the industry last week, we can only question why the racing operators and the racing regulator are not playing a more active role in facilitating a solution to this elephant in the room?

Great strides have been made through the recognition of individual Grooms, but random upliftment and a squeak of lip service doesn’t pay the bills or inspire the heart and mind to achieve better things.

Something has to be done – quickly.

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29 comments on “Grooms – Solution Crucial

  1. Vaughan Marshall says:

    Let’s be honest Owners and Trainers lost earnings today,the biggest losers were the Grooms,their percentage of the Stakes was lost,will the EFF reimburse them,I doubt it

  2. James George says:

    Lets hear from the top trainers re their grooms working conditions and wages.A top trainer said the grooms would be the losers by protesting.Lets see what they would be losing.

  3. James George says:

    So when Cape trainers, and it seemed Mr.Marshall included. boýcotted”the New Years Day meeting at Durbanville where the fields ended up with four and five runners,did he think the Grooms were going to be the biggest losers?Did he reimburse his grooms?I doubt it.


    But what are you really saying, Mr. Marshall ?

    Re-imbursements from any party, whoever it may be, is not the issue. I feel you are deflecting away from the bigger problem. Kindly point out if there is an underlying message in your comment “the biggest losers were the Grooms”.

    Surely not Mr Marshall… if you consider the BIGGER PICTURE. There’s only one massive loser.

    Humbly yours and disappointed at your comment

    William Milkovitch

  5. Brett Maselle says:

    The Thoroughbred Racing Trust should have dived in and become immediately involved in these groom complaints. Its objectives include transformation, promoting the interests of everyone in horse racing and supporting historically disadvantaged and discriminated against persons.

    Below you will read an extract out of the SA racing fact book about the Racing Trust. It is supposed to be an independent non aligned and transparent organisation. Yes, you have read correctly. I believe that to the majority of people involved in horse racing, the Racing Trust is run as a secret society and is most definitely not transparent. Horse racing has never seen an annual financial statement of the Racing Trust.

    In my opinion, the Racing Trust has done more for Phumelela and Western Cape Racing than it has done for transformation. It has spent tens of millions of Rands to acquire the shares in Kenilworth Racing (Pty) Ltd so that Phumelela can manage horse racing in the Western Province. Who is the ultimate beneficiary of its funds? The answer is simple.. Phumelela and it’s shareholders. To me, this so wrong and should never have been allowed.

    Despite the above, it is time for the Racing Trust to step up to the plate and to follow its obligations in terms its objectives. No lip service please.

    As an example – the R2 million The Racing Trust contributes to the RA for its members to earn an extra stakes checque in maiden plates can be used for the grooms. There is no reason why RA members should benefit to the exclusion of the rest of the horseracing industry. In particular, nothing of the R2 million should be going to any owner.

    I also set out below what the competition tribunal found when allowing the demerger. Note the names of the individuals involved and the aspect of having too many hats. I wonder if the Competition Tribunal would have allowed the deal to go through had the Steinhoff scandal arisen at that time. Putting this aside, it is time for the Racing Trust to help the grooms and in found so help horseracing.


    The SA racing fact book of 2009 says the following about the Racing Trust.

    The Thoroughbred Horseracing Trust (The Racing Trust) is an independent, non-aligned and transparent organisation created in 1988 by The Racing Association and the National Sports Council (now the South African Sports Confederation & Olympic Committee). The principal object of the Trust is to promote the interests of all persons interested in, and affected
    by, the sport in South Africa, with a view to the long term viability of the sport. It is particularly concerned with transformation and is charged with initiating, supporting and encouraging the
    participation of persons who have been historically disadvantaged and discriminated against. The Racing Trust also provides supplementary stakes for horse racing events.
    The Racing Trust currently totally supports the Gauteng Jockeys’ Academy, the Work Riders’ Training Programme and race series and a new venture training young men to become farriers. It also contributes towards supporting the Grooms’
    School at Randjiesfontein, the Equine Research Centre at Onderstepoort and the informal racing sectors of the Eastern and Northern Capes.


    From the findings of the competition tribunal:-

    The Thoroughbred Horseracing Trust

    After the implementation of the second transaction, the Trust will become the sole shareholder of Kenilworth Racing.

    The Trust was formed in 1997 to become the vehicle to hold the shares of the former Turf Clubs in Phumelela and to distribute dividends accrued on that investment back into the industry. This merger extends the role of the Trust even further. In terms of Kenilworth Racing’s articles of association, the Western Cape chapter of the Racing Association will have the right to make nominations to the board of Kenilworth, and the Trust will do what is reasonably in its power to ensure that one third of the directors to the board of Kenilworth come from these nominations. The Commission’s interest in the Trust stems from the fact that the Trust also holds shares in Phumelela, and with a 35.26% shareholding is the latter’s largest shareholder.

    If Phumelela and Kenilworth are considered competitors it means the Trust has the power to appoint directors to both boards. This has in fact happened. Two trustees of Kenilworth, Johannes Van Niekerk and Marcus Jooste, are also directors of Phumelela and have been nominated by the Trust to serve on the Kenilworth board. Their tripartite role is partly what led to the Commission to suggest that Phumelela is the controller not merely the manager of Kenilworth. Van Niekerk, who testified at the hearing, was cross examined by the Commission on this relationship. He testified that his fiduciary obligations remained to that of the entity on whose board he sat and it was possible to serve all three masters at the same time without conflicts of interest arising. The Commission did not accept this. Partly as a response to this criticism, the merging parties offered certain conditions for the approval of the merger which we discuss later.

    The Trust, apart from these holdings, exists largely to further the interests of the industry. That is, it uses income from its holdings to redistribute to advance public interest purposes that relate to racing.

    The Trust is of modest means; it has no staff and makes use of office space in the RA premises as well their secretarial staff.

    The Trust is precluded by its deed from carrying on business itself. It is thus not the activities of the Trust itself that concern the Commission but its role as a conduit pipe between the RA, Phumelela and Kenilworth.

  6. Nish says:

    Unfortunately the only real losers are the owners who keep the game going. Everyone else benefits from the investment of the owner, plain & simple. What percentage of horses in training are owned by trainers?

    It will be interesting to know the facts. I would like to suggest that trainers get 5% of stakes earned & the grooms get 5%. At least this will indicate a willingness to show good faith. How many trainers do work riding? I guess a very small percentage. Trainers are carrying very little or no risk at all. What is their outlay in running this business? Saddles & bridles. Stable rental. All covered by the training fees that owners pay.

    Some serious soul searching needs to be done by the trainers. Being difficult and obnoxious is not going to move this game forward. Making cocky comments is going to worsen the crises. Asking how much money the grooms lost is showing complete arrogance & disrespect towards the aggrieved party.

    Trainers must not think that they are indispensable. They are not as good as they portray themselves to be. The results of late shows just how bad they are at training horses.

  7. Pops says:

    So according to Geoff Woodruff the grooms have settled for R 1 000 a week wage.What were they paying their grooms before?

  8. Sorry4You says:

    I am blown away with the absence of the racing operators. I am feeling for the grooms and agree that they should air their grievances. However, the way they are doing it is wrong! Having said this, are these actions taken by the grooms or is it the EFF wanting to advance their political mayhem in our beloved country. Racing in South Africa cannot be at a lower point. The shocks of the last two years with two of our prominent owners, left us looking like pumpkins in the eyes of the world. I believe our export protocol got a huge knock and we are far off once again of exporting our race horses. (Please tell me if my limited information is wrong). I only heard about this on Winning Ways (love this program and Breeding to Win) when Paul and James mentioned it but no one has come out and said anything about this since then…..?? This brings me to why I am writing this post. There are three fundamental flaws in our racing industry and these are: NO TRANSPARENCY!!!!!!, NO COMMUNICATION!!!!!!! and CORRUPTION!!!!! in all aspects of the sport NOT just at the racing operators. I am at the point where I really don’t care anymore. I am leaving racing as fast as possible and I am sure I am not the only owner saying this to him- or herself. Once my horses and foals are sold, I will be out for good in racing! (I lived for racing)

    This however brings a massive sadness into my life as I really do love my beautiful (even if they don’t win) horses. I have named all my foals and I have seen them growing up in-front of my eyes… My first colt should start racing next season…. so close to full circle and yet here I am leaving the industry just as I got to the final stretch. I will still have an interest in the breeding side with the Winterbach Lads, if not for these two wonderful people I would have packed it all up!! (I wonder how many owners feel like I do tonight?) It is as if everything is in a haze and one looks in from the outside and you cannot believe what your eyes are seeing…… I am sure there are some trainers who are guilty of not paying their grooms what they should. I would like to think that most trainers do not fall within this category. All the stables that I am involved with are falling within the latter department. Their staff are all happy. Hence my EFF remark above.

    People we are so critical of each other and we can never stand together. When will this change? How are we going to save this industry? Some of my own thoughts…..

    1) Stake money MUST go up substantially. Have less racing days if need be but double the stake money. The betting turnover will not go down with less racing days. More money will be spent on these reduced race days. There are enough International races that we can punt on if we had to reduce our own race days.

    2) Owners must pay more monthly for the keep of their horses to the trainers. The stake money will justify these increases. It will be a win-win for all.

    3) Pay the grooms more money and give them 3 horses to look after each. Trainers can pay these grooms more money because of the increase in training fees. This will also mean that a yard can have less grooms. However, they will be the good grooms that deserve the bigger salaries.

    4) More young people will come in to the sport if the stakes are enough to pay for some of the horse’s monthly keep. 5th place should pay enough for the horse’s monthly keep.

    5) With export protocol in jeopardy (or completely off), breed less race horses with better stock. Until we have the demand for more horses, cap breeding numbers for now. Breed with the best proven horses coming out of racing. Set an Industry minimum standard for horses to breed with. I know this is not always perfect science!! We need to start somewhere…..

    6) Bookies will have to be cut back, or a percentage of their takings must come back to racing. (How to do this I have no idea) I do know that the bookies are the culprits here. (Not all bookmakers either, there are many of them that do give back to racing) I would just like to see that a percentage from their turnover come back in to the racing pools. Not the operator’s pockets but the racing stakes pools. Let’s embrace the bookmakers and find a solution. They are here to stay, so let’s talk to them.

    7) NHRA to flex their muscles on behalf of their owners. Start treating owners like the hero’s they are!! Every owner pays for all the above. Without owners THERE ARE NO RACING. Unless breeders want to race each other and that would make them owners as well!!

    8) Have respect for all walks of life. Be nice to every person you meet at the race course. The punters there are our sports life line! They deserve to get the correct information on our horses. (or best information the trainers/owners can give them). Without punters THERE ARE NO RACING. Treat these people with respect. The I, ME and MYSELF will not grow the sport of racing.

    9) Owners, we can race each other, but let’s be civil to each other and good luck to the rightful owner/s. Bring back sportsmanship.

    10) Jockeys ride to win every time you get on a horse, no matter what the odds are on your horse or get off and let’s have someone on that will ride to win!! We know owners give bonuses to their winning jockeys. Is this allowed? I say yes go for it, but do not set races up for these bonuses! It is happening!! If you think it doesn’t wake up. Legalize this practice if it is not already. Let’s be more transparent with our jockeys and post their earnings too just like all Owners winnings are listed. Bring back a cash reward for the best jockey of the season. 500K sounds good.

    11) The more punters and new owners we can get into the sport the bigger the tote pay outs will be. This will revive racing in this country. This is the only way to revive racing, NOT to make more new betting structures. Soccer and sport betting is killing our racing pot because there is much more transparency in sport betting.

    All the above I am sure has been said before, but it has not happened yet! Are there still honest and driven people out there who wants to make this the Sport of Kings again?

    The questions to answer:

    1) Can racing be honourable again? Corruption free. (I suppose most will answer… In your dreams) Why can we as an industry not weed out this as a priority? Corruption is not only crippling our country, but also our racing industry. Trainers and VETS injecting banned substances must be dealt with severely! Stupid fines are a joke!! Ban them for a year or two or for life if it is justifiable. Jockeys caught involved in betting coups with bookmakers should lose their licences! Don’t play with these guys and it will stop right in it’s tracks!! Set up under cover punters to catch these corrupt jockeys and bookmakers. Once you make an example everyone will stop immediately with this practice. If China can do this, why can’t we do it??
    2) Transparency. Say things as they are! Speak your mind in a constructive way. It is easy to always be negative and down any suggestions. Let’s stop this people and let’s fix this! Post all discussions in meetings on social media such as this platform for all to see that we are working at it and we are trying to work together to find solutions for this great sport! Listen to people who have been here and seen it all (if they want to give constructive criticism) let’s embrace these comments and let’s work together as an industry wanting to turn it around!!

    3) Communication. Owners, Trainers, Jockey’s, Breeders, Betting Operators, Punters Association, (set one up) Racing Operators and the NHRA let’s form a forum and discuss all our problems and how can we do better by all concerned and how can we save our industry and our reputations. If we do this, we will bring new blood to the sport of kings.

    Well people surprise me and let’s do this all together and make racing in South Africa something to be proud of again! Or shoot me down…… I can take it!! I am on borrowed time anyway, UNLESS…….
    Thank you all for reading my ten cents worth. I wish you all the best whatever happens after this.

    DON’T SAY NOTHING WILL CHANCE….. I will change, will you and you and you??? Then we can MAKE IT CHANGE.

  9. Steve says:

    Unfortunately this is going to effect the Industry more than we can imagine. Already Owners are questioning their investment in the game. This game was always recognised as the “Sport of Kings” but this has now changed dramatically to the “Sport of K….”
    Sadly i’m Sorry to say that I most definitely will be re-accessing my involvement going forward.

  10. Steve says:

    Reading all the comments being posted…..The bottom line is……Without a Substantial Increase in the Racing Stakes, this Industry is DOOMED!!!
    Come on now, Racing Association-Phumelela & NHA you need to get involved, pull together and make this work!!

  11. Paulo says:

    I don’t understand how indolent the trainers fraternity actually is/has become. I can’t tell anyone how to run their businesses, but there are two aspects to this;

    1 – Humanity (how people are supposed to pay their bills and support their families and at what level)
    2 – Since the 1st of April 2018, its is mandated law in South Africa, that minimum wage is a minimum of R3850.00 or circa R20 per hour. That is very close to what is/was being demanded/agreed to by the grooms.
    By getting close to R4000 or R1000 a week, trainers are merely doing what the law requires them to do.
    Humanely it should have been done ages ago, lawfully it should have been done months ago.

  12. Jurgs says:

    “5th place should pay enough for the horse’s monthly keep” Sorry for you I think that your points are well meant but clearly not thought so. Doing the sums and working off a low base of R8000 per month training fees, your lowest stake would need to be R160 000 pay pay the required amount. And I’m taking gross, it it were nett add another 21%

  13. Jurgs says:

    It’s all about economics Paulo. You would be shocked to see what some very well known trainers owe Phumelela and cannot pay.

  14. beatle says:

    The protest was not only at Randjesfontein yesterday it also took place at the Vaal training centre yesterday – I for one could not enter the course as protesters had blocked the entrance and had made a fire on the road at the gate entrance . EFF members were present as well as armed protesters .

  15. Pops says:

    You have to take your hat off to Larry Wainstein,Clyde Basel.Vee Moodley Lydon Barends and others at the top who just go about their business of keeping racing going in difficult times.You never hear of them asking for more money to do their jobs.
    Jockeys wanting to get paid for riding barrier trials.Trainers wanting extra cut from prize money,Grooms wanting wage increase,owners asking for bigger stakes,punters wanting inside info from trainers.
    Come on guys,just smile and wave.

  16. Steve says:

    Hey Pops, not sure how involved you are but???????????????????//

  17. Sorry4You says:

    Hi Jurgs, I am well aware of the amounts I am referring to. My comment was that the stakes should double! I am saying maidens must run for R200K. The horses we buy are far more expensive now and for the small owners like myself you need to get something back for winning a maiden so that you can buy another horse in time to come. We all do understand that making money out of racing is not going to happen unless you hit an absolute champ!! Then you might make a bit of ammo. However, for our small owners usually winning a maiden with our horses and two years later winning another race we cannot even ease the pain of the monthly keep! Never mind buying another horse for the trainer…. With 56K first price money now, you can have the first bid on every horse coming into the ring at the sales and then you out….. 🙂 The stakes must go up, new blood will not come into this game to lose this kind of money we are losing as small owners. Come to think of it, the big owners are in the same boat! They have more horses to feed, the scale of economics work the same for them. Yes, we are all saying we are not in the sport to make money, we love the horses. (and in my case this is really true) However, why does one have to lose so much money just because you love the sport and the horses??? The stakes are the problem!! The losses are outweighing everything in this game. Time to balance the scales a little bit….. I think. Take care all.

  18. Sandhiran says:

    I’m firmly of the believe that employees should be compensated accordingly … the next protest is going to come from the tab/tote operators

  19. Jurgs says:

    Clearly some people are mathematically challenged!

  20. Sorry4You says:

    5th place R 10,000
    4th place R 20,000
    3rd place R 30,000
    2nd place R 50,000
    1st place R 90,000

    What am I missing….. I never once said keep the existing formulas in place!

  21. Jurgs says:

    Sorry S4u my comment was in response to Vaughn Marshall and I clicked in the reply box under his comment.

    Insofar as your suggestion is concerned, you will be having the Phumelela and RA freeloaders quaking, because the only way thats going to happen is by cutting benefits

  22. Sorry4You says:

    This I do know Jurgs. Did you see the post Robyn just posted “Are You Being Served”? Crazy crazy…. I have other words to use but they will not post them!!

  23. Roderick Mattheyse says:

    pops leave some heroin for the addicts – you may just be creating another crisis

  24. Roderick Mattheyse says:

    40 hours a week @R20 = R800 so the new offer is 25% more which is a substantial %.

    they may look after expensive horseflesh but there cannot be a compelling argument that merely caring for a horse walking it grooming it etc is a skill that is in short supply and thereby demanding above minimum wage salaries.

  25. Paulo says:

    @Rod….Totally agree on the skills part.
    The one thing that I think you need a rethink on is the 40 hours…A groom on a 8 hour, 5 days a week pay schedule? Haven’t met one. More like 6 days, 48 hours…or worse…that makes it R960 per week…add the saturday or sunday time, whatever applies…and they have just been ignoring the labour rhetoric
    Plus minimum wage is – if I am not mistaken – R20 per hour and/or R3850 as a minimum.
    In any case…its a pittance for someone entrusted with millions in horse flesh.


    “merely caring for a horse walking it grooming it” . That must be the most sickest and shortsighted comment ever posted, Mr Mattheyse !

    Shame on You

    William Milkovitch

  27. Roderick Mattheyse says:

    Care to explain why my comment sickens you? I would really like to understand why you would consider the skill set more than menial?

  28. Roderick Mattheyse says:

    Paulo normally there is a scheduling cycle over 2 weeks, similar to the retail industry

  29. Paul says:

    It’s just funny Mr William. You have no idea the pressure that is on trainers and owners alike to keep the industry running in order to provide jobs for the grooms. All the credit you seem to give to grooms. No horses no groom’s. Not the other way around. No job. You honestly think horse owners need groom’s to survive. I dont think so. We help provide employment. We can give up this business and move on but where do the grooms go. Before you say anything particularly if it is out of anger or jealousy over horse owners or trainers I hope you have a big enough premises to give the groom’s a job when all goes pear shaped.
    Grooms have the benefit of having responsibility and a job. Half a loaf is better than none

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