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Phumelela’s New Broom To Sweep Clean?

Stuart sparks hope of better days

The uncertainty over the Vaal track in recent weeks has meant a spluttering start to the Highveld Spring Season festivities and been a less than welcoming baptism into office for new Phumelela CEO, John  Stuart.

But opportunity can often lurk under the guise of adversity.

John Stuart

John Stuart

Just three days after he cleared Rian Du Plessis’ office drawers and hung his own pictures on the walls – his predecessor had been there for a decade – Mr Stuart was on the long road to the Vaal early last Friday morning.

A recent meeting at the Vereeniging track had been disrupted as a result of jockey concerns about the surface and some trainers had pulled horses out.  That kind of, surely avoidable, trauma has serious reputational impact – something Phumelela are said to be keen to pack away – and also wounds the lifeblood of betting turnover and rattles customer confidence.

Racing cannot move forward if the public keep believing that nobody cares or actually knows – or ever thinks about – what they are doing.

Stuart’s inspections revealed that there was excessive wear and tear in several sections of the Vaal Classic course, particularly on the turn.

Half of the Vaal track was scarified over a month ago and that part of the track had responded well treatment. The second half of the track, the front straight, was partially scarified more recently on 5 September and this area was the current cause of concern.

Besides quietly praying for warmer weather – the rapid grass growth normally triggered by the arrival of spring has been stunted at the Vaal by cold snaps coupled with a severe frost – Stuart was keen to make an early impression and his Cyril Ramaphosa type walkabout, besides dirtying his shoes, made an immediate impression.

“I’m a bit of a cynic. But I like this man already and I have only just shaken his hand and met him for the first time. The fact that he has taken the time and trouble to come here and see what is going on first hand is bloody refreshing. And he speaks my language. There’s hope!” joked local trainer Ashley Fortune’s charismatic husband Andrew, who would no doubt have added his own very educated and unabridged opinion on the state of play to the fledgeling CEO’s notes.

Time will tell whether Stuart’s action was a new broom political play, or simply a genuine effort to take control, show some proactivity and send a friendlier message to stakeholders than has generally been the case in the past decade.

It looks to have already ignited more transparency in the ranks.

His operational lieutenants may well be waking up a half hour earlier in the morning.

They were certainly quick to action to contain the Vaal fallout and there was a show of planning and consultation, with gallops being held under senior jockeys and broadcast live on Tellytrack.

An assertive – popular for some and less so for others – decision was made to postpone the Grand Heritage and the Consolation feature to Saturday 13 October. That’s not ideal, as horses are prepped for a target date.

But it’s a more positive result than blindly holding the meeting this Saturday on ‘shaky’ ground and peeving stakeholders and punters, while wasting time and money and abandoning halfway.

The Grand Heritage slot was the traditional Emerald Cup day on the now defunct sand track and it may even be time to reconsider the programming to another date, to avoid our unpredictable Mother Nature wielding more havoc in the years ahead.

Word on the ground is that December may be under consideration as a better month to run the big race.

It makes plenty of sense. There won’t be a clash factor with the Cape Summer Season or the local feature programme, as it is a relatively well-endowed race intended to cater for a range of handicappers, who are generally not looking for Gr1 contests.

It’s good to see somebody is thinking. There’s hope yet – as Fortune suggests.

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5 comments on “Phumelela’s New Broom To Sweep Clean?

  1. Sean says:

    I hope that going forward some attention will be given towards the servicing of clients from the tote and betting world. Time for area managers to perform their duties ensuring at Branch level, such things as staff being at their till in order for punters to place bets at exotic times, ensuring the tote facility switches on the display functions for tote dividends to be displayed and NO PLAYING on cell phones while working. These are just a few of the daily irritations that clients experience and it never seems to be addressed.

  2. Dawid says:

    Rob Scott told us that JS did not travel to Singapore because of the problem of the Vaal track.He told us that this showed concern and a change in thinking. Funny that I did not see him at the Vaal on the most important day which was when the track was inspected. We have been complaining about the Vaal track for ages. Phumelela has closed its eyes to the problems. Most of us believe that Clyde Basel who is no horticulturist yet a one time arborist at Kenilworth has made a crucial mistake in postponing the Grand heritage and the consolation races to 13/10/18. Try and remember this comment. I look forward to the excuses being made when the time comes. Clyde Basel and Lyle Anderson did not walk the entire course. They walked around and looked at the last few hundred meters. Hopefully JS will stand up and apologize for the poor actions and decisions of his staff.

  3. Leon Smuts says:

    I wish John Stuart all the best in what will be a very challenging role with everything currently transpiring. He has an opportunity to recommit the company to it’s racing roots and there is no doubt that strong local racing will have huge gains for overall company performance. If he can pull it off I will be the first to congratulate him as I have genuine reservations about the corporate models suitability for the racing industry. Racing, if packaged to best effect, can be so much more than currently and I hope that this will dawn on those involved in future.

  4. Vivian says:

    I love reading all the “miss haps about the Vaal Racecourse. Louis Goosen left the Vaal…for what reason?? Ask him if there is a problem and if anyone has made any effort to try and improve the Vaal. That would be an interesting conversation. Best of luck. Vivian

  5. tannie says:

    Hello Ormond,
    I think you should start a morning walking group.
    There are quite a few officials and even some trainers who would benefit from a brisk morning walk round the track.
    You will have to make sure they are properly shod, so as to protect the sod.

    As befitting your age, you could follow behind on a quad bike with a prodder.

    When faced with idiocy, you know which finger !
    Best regards

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