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.
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.”
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?”
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.