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Cape Racing Needs The Small Trainers

'Surely it's not rocket science!'

Philippi trainer Riaan van Reenen saddled a winning double at Durbanville on Tuesday but said that the sad lack of unity and spirit in Cape racing had dampened the thrill of saddling the winners of the first two races.

Riaan van Reenen – disenchanted

Van Reenen and Carl Burger train twelve horses in partnership and the feat of achieving a double is a meritorious one.

Both winners, Ready To Rumble and Celestial Storm, won from the front under apprentice Liam Tarentaal.

Stressing that he spoke for himself and not his partner, Van Reenen said that the days where even the small trainers felt part of the club and were ambassadors for the game were long over.

“The vibe’s gone. In days gone by we got a cup of tea and a samie – even a lunch ticket. Now the food is awful and the eateries have been outsourced. And the prices are crazy. Don’t get me wrong – I can buy my own coffee. It’s the principle of feeling welcome. Feeling part of a joint effort. Feeling that we are in this together. There is no unity. They don’t talk to us – we don’t talk to them. And the imbalance of power is reinforced. One of these days there will be four trainers left – they will be racing against each other.”

Riaan has been in the game for 30 years and has trained for 13 years.

“In that time I think we as trainers have had four meetings with the club. The communication from authorities is not what it should be.”

He said that the Cape had some of the best trainers in the country, the best horses, the best racecourse, the biggest owners, powerful breeders – yet the region was in trouble.

“I see the structure ideally as a pyramid with the club on top and the trainers acting as the middle man between them and the owners and punters. But there is no communication between the operator and most of the trainers. They hide behind a liaison person who has no authority to change or implement anything.”

Kenilworth Racecourse (photo: Gold Circle)

Kenilworth Racecourse

He recalled a punter syndicate initiative about ten years ago in the Cape.

“I am friends with Basil Marcus and have no issues with Mike Bass – but what did the club do? They bought the horses and gave it to them. Is that empowering the smaller guys over the well connected big players? In this day and age, one would think that given the recent Grooms experience, that Phumelela are sensitive to BEE and empowerment. But they talk a big game. That’s where it ends.”

“Look at what Gold Circle did to empower smaller trainers – and even Bennet Bulana. The first ten boxes cost say R50 each and then they are charged on a sliding scale – and the boxes are limited. It is not about upholding mediocrity – it’s about looking out for the greater good of racing and levelling the playing fields. Surely betting turnover will benefit with having eight different trainers and their connections represented rather than six horses from the top yard, only one of which is ridden by their top jockey – and then maybe two more trainers?”

Women's Day - Kenilworth

Women’s Day – Kenilworth

The straightshooting Van Reenen said that if one looked at going back to basics, he believed it wasn’t too late for change and rejuvenation.

“Look at the average sports club. They charge club prices and don’t rip people off. Parents talk to friends. Suddenly the clubhouse is full of people. There’s music. Everybody’s happy. They support the kids and cheer at the games. The positivity feeds on itself. It’s a place where people want to be. Now draw a correlation between that and Kenilworth. Why would I tell my owners and friends to come racing? Because of the vibe? Because of the friendly atmosphere? Because of the good food? Because the prices weren’t a rip off? I can’t tick any of those boxes.”

He suggested that the fact that Grand West Casino was amongst the leading gambling outlets in the country disproved the theory that there is no money or people don’t gamble in the Cape like they do in KZN.

“You go to Grand West. It’s secure. It’s clean. There are a choice of eating outlets. They reward you for loyalty. And then you still do your money. But you come back.”

He suggested that the authorities needed to do an urgent repair job on the broken relations with trainers and win back their best ambassadors.

“A trainer lives off the support of owners and involving people in horses. If I’m negative, how am I going to inspire owners to even buy one leg of a horse? I am not sour grapes – I wish all the top guys well but this is supposed to be a sport and the game needs the middle and bottom end of the market too.”

“I’ve just used the cash we won on Tuesday to pay the rent for our boxes at Phillipi. Where else must the money come from? It’s hand to mouth, I tell you, and it shouldn’t be that way.”

He said he was thinking of approaching the government for help, as the industry had not given him any assistance.

“I am a so-called Coloured person who has had to kick, scream and shout to get into this game. The authorities are quick to claim good BEE policies, but they’ve done little to support people like me. It’s not a question of playing the race card – it is something I am entitled to as a previously disadvantaged person. I should at least be considered for assistance.”

“I hope we can sort it out – even for the next generation. Racing can’t die,” he said.

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10 comments on “Cape Racing Needs The Small Trainers

  1. ROBOCOP says:

    could not agree with you more. you have battled but always been honest and open. keep it up boytjie

  2. Louis Goosen says:

    I think that Riaan makes many very valid points, until he gets to the previously disadvantaged part. That is just not accurate, as the fact of the matter is that there are many “previously advantaged” Trainers in very much the exact same boat as he is in. Why should he, then, be the recipient of special ” help” from the Operators or the Authorities?

    However, I do believe that the rest of his points are very true and that he has hit the nail on the head. Cape Racing, though, is not alone. The rest of the Country faces the same challenges. Unfortunately, there is the current econo political situation in the Country to consider. The truth is that Racing needs to hear and to act on the very valid points that Riaan has made. There will be a substantial thinning out process in the next year in Racing, if huge efforts are not made, urgently. That is inevitable.

    It just seems that Racing is run by Accountants, with very few real Sales people in their midst, or at their level of decision making , in order to balance the thinking process. Yes, we do need to cut or limit costs….but not at the expense of Customer Care , Service Delivery and ultimately, Customer Retention. These are always a difficult “sell”, to the “bottom line” boyz….yet the most confusing part of it all is the gravy train itself which does not appear to be considered in the financial bigger picture, as it chugs along relentlessly, on its consumptive binge, carrying its feasting and bloated passengers.

    Basically, the Accountants will say, “show us the numbers and then we will cater for them”. In contrast, the Sales force will say, “Cater for the numbers and we will get them for you.” And that is why we need a balance, a conductor for the Orchestra. The conductor is neither Accountant nor Sales person. He is the simple, common sense driven “balancer” , with a very good ear.

    With the greatest respect and in my humble opinion , which is based on my experience over the last year or so, at least the KZN bunch here in Durban are working damn hard to sustain their side of Racing in these difficult times and are always trying new and innovative ideas to promote and sustain the Game in its purest form. It would be good if all regions followed suit, by putting Racing and the customers of Racing first. The Game might survive, then…

  3. Christo says:

    Racing is a joke in south Africa. I stop playing south African racing rather do English soccer. From the trainers to the jockeys it’s not good. The public who play don’t get the info they deserve. Love the soccer and always the best vs the best. I alwAys went to all race meetings, now I don’t even bother to look at a racecard. Same with rugby

  4. Arthur talbot says:

    Riaan van Reenen had a point until he got to the entitlement but.Louis has touched on some very valid points and I think it is time that Phumelela in particular with its wholly owned subsidiary Betting World took a step backwards to see how they treat the everyday punter st its Cspe outlets..Poorly trained personnel betting screens that are continuously faulty facilities which are poorly lit dont add up to the best place to spend time to spend a few rand.Competiruon is out there and other outlets are becoming more attractive.Racing in general has declined.The overall standard is dropping race meetings are abandoned because of leaking sprinkler systems.Bridles snap on the way to the start.Saddles are not fitted properly. Stirrup irons break on the favourite.Shoes come off on the way to the start.Hoods are not taken off in time leaving the horse and jockey stranded.Two series falls with seemingly no proper medical assistance given to two world famous jockeys.The head hunted Lyndon Barends on special leave because the NHA dint know what to do with him .Now the Public prosecutor has been interdicted not to investigate racing in South Africa.An aging executive with no succession planning g in sight.Time to wake up boytjies.
    Disgruntled punter

  5. Warren Grobler says:

    On the 11th of August I went racing in the Pocket Power room at Kenilworth,the first time I’d been in 2 years.Of the 10 people at our table,9 have only been racing a few times.

    We had a fantastic day punting,and all agreed that they’d like to do it again sometime.

    HOWEVER,the food was absolutely diabolical.The 3 of us that had calamari agreed it was the worst we’d ever tasted.Nobody’s expecting a gourmet meal for R110,but surely the food should at least be edible.

    The agreement at the end of the day was that we would probably all do this again,but that we’d rather meet up for brunch before racing.

    If nothing else,you’ve got to serve decent food at reasonable prices!

    The other issues are probably tougher to solve.They have been mounting for years.Despite umpteen offers of suggestions,and telling the administrators about our gripes,role players across the racing spectrum have been ignored.

    Racing is simply reaping what it has sowed.

  6. Joe2 says:

    I feel for Riaan. The small trainers are the life blood of racing. I am an owner with 2 horses with a small trainer and love it. I would rather give up racing than hand my horses over to a big yard.
    Unless you are a well connected billionaire your horses end up being trained by assistant number 3 and groom 42. Viva the small trainer.

  7. Leon Smuts says:

    Racing will never grow when only a superficial interest in the sport is exhibited as is evident in SA and most parts of the world. Until new markets are created and better care is taken of existing customers the situation can only deteriorate further. Very few operators understand the absolute gem that pool business can be as traditional tote products have only scraped the surface in terms of what can be offered. Focused marketing with a dedicated product set, better technology and a strong service ethic will be very effective and would convert many a detractor of racing. Sort out the funding model first so that stakes can provide a more economic return to owners and make participation more attractive. If we showcase the better aspects of racing small owners and trainers will soon be back in business and the sport will flourish yet again.

    1. Editor says:

      Sounds relatively simple. Why is it not happening?

  8. Leon smuts says:

    Ed, it really could be simple but you need to be serious about promoting racing. Advertising, capacity building programs, new product offerings, serious technology, product and skills education and service accountability. Long term capacity building has been ignored as it doesn’t serve the insatiable immediate bottom line and suggests an unwanted further racing expense before only delivering results at a future point. An unhealthy reliance on churn and big spending customers have blinded operators to the obvious which is to make the sport attractive to a brand new customer base. The intention is clearly to diversify away from racing and to do just enough to keep things rolling over rather than a concerted effort to allow racing to have an unsubsidised existence. This is not just an SA problem though as most racing interests world wide are finding the going tough. The key to racing’s turnaround is relevance which can only be attained by having a large and growing customer base. Get traction on this front and sponsors and advertisers will be lining up to get involved and so too main stream media which will make marketing that much easier. Racing needs to be run by people who love racing and see potential in it.

  9. bert says:

    Riaans correct those at top only interested in the top trainers top jockeys etc..I understand that if u buy a horse u would like the best trainers to train the horse (the top few are not always the best but they still get best horses why ??)but not everyone can afford their fees etc and besides who knows maybe their is a M De Kock lurking amongst the smaller trainers that dont get descent horses like the top few trainers do
    As for the course ,dead,why ??? if I go to course I want a good cheap meal not what the fancy retaurants charge.At the kenilworth /durbanville courses the food is disgusting and very expensive.
    The price of a hamburger or boori roll is the same price as a crayfish.

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