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Kenilworth Racing Plays Open Cards

No show from Racing Association

With South African horseracing under the whip on all fronts, and the foundation of our national industry, the powerful Western Cape under a punishing ride, it took more than a spoonful of confidence on the part of the Kenilworth Racing board to issue a public invitation for all stakeholders and interested parties to attend a meeting at the historic racecourse on Monday evening.

It proved a watershed moment in a notoriously information-shy sport and certainly the first occasion in modern times that a racing operator had actually opened their hearts and home to anybody who was prepared to listen – and be heard.

Mark Currie – statesmanship and emerged with credibility

But desperate times call for desperate measures and an audience of just over 100 turned up for the event hosted by Kenilworth Racing Co-chairs Robert Bloomberg and Mark Currie, together with fellow board members Faeeza Heuwel, Bradley Ralphs and Dean Finder.

Phumelela CEO John Stuart and Rob Scott made up what many expected to be a herd of deer in the headlights.

The missing link? The Racing Association. CEO Larry Wainstein had seconded Michael Leaf to represent the organisation. He was missing in action. A great pity. Maybe a poor show is a better way of putting it.

Horseracing has been through a tough few years – a massive loss of blood from the Markus Jooste scandal in December 2017 and the cherry on the cake being Phumelela’s recent dreadful financial results.

Add to that the racing regulator’s poor public relations record. The latter being outlined by an incident on Summer Cup day that has been royally ignored  – despite every man and his horse seemingly willing to discuss it with the Sporting Post.

Longstanding owner and breeder Peter de Beyer made a few classic points on Monday evening -one was that horseracing needs to manage information – and disinformation.

But back to racing’s ills.

The long list of injuries includes flagging  betting turnovers, a declining horse population, protracted legal battles and labour unrest via the Grooms.

With Kimberley given a reprieve recently, the loss of any racing region would have serious knock-on effects and the Cape is clearly strategic to the national wellbeing.

The racing centre where the surf meets the turf hosts 75 racemeetings a year, has 35% of its thoroughbred ownership overseas-based and boasts 12 of the country’s top 15 stud farms.

It’s also a longstanding preferred destination of a generation of overseas investors, dating all the way back to trainer Theo de Klerk in the early 1960’s, who pioneered the ‘swallows’ – racing loving folk who followed the sun and the lifestyle offered in one of the greatest places to live and play in Africa.

The concept of Kenilworth Racing’s joint or co-chairmen, introduced in December 2018 and frowned upon by many initially, appears to have gone some way to spanning the cultural divide between North and South.

Robert Bloomberg – embracing the racing community

The men sharing the hot seat, Robert Bloomberg and Mark Currie, in their own very different ways, emerged with plenty of credit from the meeting, with Currie showing statesmanship and diplomacy in dealing with a rather petulant walkout – a move in stark contrast to the ‘agree to disagree’ spirit of the evening – by a former Director

After giving an overview of the Gold Circle demerger, and how Kenilworth Racing had ended up under the stewardship of Phumelela, Bloomberg said South African racing was ‘essentially bankrupt’ but felt that a lot could be done to keep it afloat with a view to salvaging jobs and positioning it for a future turnaround.

“Phumelela has failed us dismally in the past. Kenilworth Racing needs its own management team to take over and do what is best for Cape Town,” he said, before pointing out that the international sale of television rights to South Africa’s 428 race meetings a year was crucial to keeping the local industry alive.

Apparently, if the number of local race meetings staged fall below 407, current broadcasting deals would be severely financially impacted upon.

In a view expressed by many on-course visitors and stakeholders, Cape racing clearly needs a hands-on and dedicated marketing and sales team.

Echoing the calls for greater transparency and information for the punter from Charles Faull , Peter de Beyer concurred that racing did not know its customer base, let alone how to cater to it and had done little to market or encourage new ownership or sell itself as a ‘believable and credible sport’.

Rob Scott acknowledged the marketing shortcomings and conceded that ‘the industry had not done a great job’. He also said that some retail outlets were not up to standard and that some of the loss-making shops had been closed in terms of their recent right-sizing exercise.

Rob Scott

Rob Scott – acknowledged shortcomings

When taxed on Racing It’s a Rush, Scott said that he was now at the helm and that ‘a change of focus’ was being implemented.

While there is seemingly no firm idea as to how racing as a sport will eventually trade itself into the black, the structures have to be put in place and investment made in the right management and facilities to give the game a boost to start seeing the wood from the trees. But let’s not talk about trees – that’s still a sensitive subject.

As outlined from the chair, some of the proposals for arresting the decline in Western Cape racing largely focussed on the repositioning of the property assets including:

  • Developing Durbanville as Cape Town’s training centre and putting land at the existing Milnerton and Philippi facilities to other use.
  • Using valuable parcels of land at Kenilworth, Durbanville, Milnerton and Philippi to generate annuity income and create alternative revenue streams to horse racing.
  • Creating an operational management structure for Kenilworth Racing to control and run racing in Cape Town – taking over from Johannesburg-based Phumelela, which is in financial trouble.
  • Developing a far-sighted business plan to ensure racing survives in Cape Town and in South Africa.
  • Attracting back the sponsors who have dropped Cape Town racing – largely due to Phumelela’s problematic tenure in the city.

Bloomberg and Currie emphasised that the sale of land assets was unlikely – not least because of legal contracts with the City of Cape Town and environmental issues related to fynbos. A property sub-committee established to determine how best to use the properties to support racing had been set up, with important stakeholders represented.

Currie said that horseracing is notoriously opaque and full of mistrust.

He summarised the intention of the meeting.

“We wanted to provide insight into the history of Kenilworth Racing, how the de-merger from Gold Circle happened, how we arrived at this point, what the challenges are and how we can improve things.”

Bloomberg endorsed the view.

“We wanted to give racing people a boost in very trying times,” he explained, adding that – with a couple of notable exceptions – the forum had been ‘positively received’ and had ‘allayed a lot of fears’.

So, a meeting described by a few observers as ‘sincere and authentic’ with a ray of hope. There is clearly every good intention to salvage the wreck and chart a course to calmer waters.

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28 comments on “Kenilworth Racing Plays Open Cards

  1. bob kistnasamy says:

    Phumelela partnerships has been disastrous to say the least. Cape Town racing was quick to divorce arrangement with Gold Circle to get into bed with Phumelela.
    Are there any considerations to re-join Gold Circle Ed?

    As for Larry in his fancy suit, I am sure that there were more positives and concrete discussions without his presence.

  2. WILLIAM MILKOVITCH says:

    Phumelela may have a place in the Numbers (Daily Lotto’s) & Soccer betting market as they are easy to service.

    Phumelela will continue to remain a poison to Horse Racing betting in South Africa. Building & servicing a meaningful customer database reflecting the horse-racing punters preferences & dislikes is way out of Phumelela’s capacity and will, let alone keeping there betting outlets decent.

    As confirmed by John Stuart’s comments, Supabets is currently in the process of a positive turn around as compared to previous years solely because it’s market & customer base is stacked heavily towards Numbers betting.

    This trend is confirmed in the last few years trading results. Horse race betting revenues comes in at a dirty fourth behind Numbers, Soccer and revenue from international viewing contracts/rights for local racing pictures.

    Moreover, the costs relating to the day-to-day racing is excessive in relation to betting income. Horseracing, as a revenue stream for Phumelela can be compared to a mosquito continuously flying around your head, causing loss of sleep.

    It’s crystal clear to me, from the comments of Phumelela’s Jon Stuart, that all that can be expected in the next 2 to 3 years is damage control.

    Phumelela is now paralyzed to react to any serious initiatives, so much so, that Rob Scott couldn’t put a time frame to when all the derelict Totes could be expected to have there ‘dirty nappies’ changed.

    Most disappointing of all, despite Phumelela, The Thoroughbred Horse Racing Trust & Kenilworth Racing conceding plenty of shortcoming and saying that they will take certain suggestions on board for future consideration, there was no Joint Entity invite to receive alternate business models proposals !

    And this, after self admissions that horse-racing is currently bankrupt !?

    Bravo to Peter de Beyer for hitting the nail on the head.

  3. Cecil Pienaar says:

    Monday nights on DSTV Ch307 is EFC fight nights, no repeats…. Hmmh 😂

  4. MGram says:

    How open were the Nadeson Project cards?

  5. Michael Jacobs says:

    Mr Hassen Adams’ vision for the development of the Rosmead ave/Wetton Rd corner should not be so easily discarded.

    For Kenilworth Racing to become financially independent and be a force again in SA racing, all opportunities should be explored. The development of that vacant land could result in financial freedom for KR, it could lead to commercial and entertainment opportunities, for example a hotel, a casino on Kenilworth racecourse and Kenilworth racecourse could become the entertainment and gaming hub of Cape Town. The course will be utilised more often instead of a white elephant used 6 or 7 times a month, by integrating the development into the course proper. Hotel, casino, retail and other entertainment opportunities. The land all the way to the M5 and across Wetton rd could be incorporated.

    There is vast potential for Kenilworth Racing and the horse racing industry could benefit greatly. Kenilworth Racing is now the orphan of SA racing, but this opportunity could elevate KR to a leading role in SA and become entirely independent of Phumelela .

  6. Paul says:

    The article refers to a rather petulant walkout by a former Director. Any good reason why this person is not named?

    1. karel says:

      Not so Open Cards then…

    2. Editor says:

      Hi Paul
      There was, amongst other items, an apparent threat of legal action in relation to the appointment of the professionals handling various property matters obo Kenilworth Racing.
      We thus chose not to name the party.
      In hindsight, omitting the name probably attracted more mystique than intended and now draws attention to something of little consequence.
      We learn every day 🙂

  7. Elwin T Trost says:

    It could help if you made it a little easier for the Punters, I love the 10 and 20 cent bets and you could have worldwide interest if you provided a little more information, like fractional times and the close down times for the last quarter of a mile. Another improvement would be to make the horse numbers and post positions the same. It would also be nice to find somebody that could broadcast the races that didn’t switch to England before you even know who won the race. It would be nice to find somebody who could also provide music between races. The present music is more like noise than music, I guess I just revealed my age. I just switched my interest to Happy Valley for some of these reasons. Ted Trost, Fort Jones. California

  8. WILLIAM MILKOVITCH says:

    Because his agenda/grievance is related to business opportunities forgone and personal alleged miscommunication & promises made between himself and Mark Currie, between himself and Robert Bloomberg, or between him & both or between him and none, I told him that this was not the platform or place !

    I had to remind him about common courtesy, manners, hidden agenda’s and the innocent people and children (1st timers attending).

    This maestro casino builder, due to the fact of how much money he has spent/invested in racing now feels he is due entitlement…. that’s it.

    Quite separate from who’s in the right or wrong, I was most disappointed by the way this experienced entrepreneur conducted himself specifically to his “claims” on Monday evening.

    Again, ego’s have and are killing horse-racing…. this issue has nothing whatsoever to do with the national interest and/or salvaging the wreck of horse-racing.

  9. Paul says:

    Understood, Ed. And your response addresses my concern: the non-disclosure of the name attracts undue attention and mystique – and any person who petulently walks out of a public meeting (as reported) does not deserve any attention whatsoever, whatever the rights or wrongs of his position. In my view, at least.

    1. Editor says:

      Fair comment

      1. karel says:

        Corblime, Paul & you should start a knitting group.

        1. Editor says:

          Sew we should

  10. Rian says:

    Hey Micheal, that piece of ground was a grave site with headstones etc by the way
    Lovely hearing Elwin all the way from California, and great hearing your comments about the 10 and 20 cent bets that are so popular in the USA
    I also long for them to come back
    The USA presenters are proud to show the tickets to the punters while they summarise the selections
    You have early pick 5 etc etc,
    Even been blasted by Ed that’s it’s same as fractional, please explain how it works and if it’s fractional I apologise Ed

  11. WILLIAM MILKOVITCH says:

    Rian, now that you mention the small graveyard, it reminds me of the 1982 Met won by Foveros.

    We found one of our party, Brandon, passed out laying on derelict grave patch @ 4.30am Sunday morning. He had become detached from us @ about 1am, always chasing more than one young lady.

    By 3ish, even though the rest of us were well oiled, we were well aware that Brandon had gone missing.

    His saving grace was that he had got his hands on a ridiculous, complete apple green suit matched up with a blinding yellow tie.

    We just asked around & luckily a security person said they had spotted him stumbling out Kenilworth, begraafplaas toe. 👻

  12. Rian says:

    And he was Fav when he won, so celebrations must have been hard and long and most cars were on auto pilot
    Brandon obviously didn’t find a bird in matching green and yellow dress

  13. Paul says:

    William, apologies for the intrusion but I must ask: your friend does not perchance act as fashion advisor to a certain senior RA official? Just asking …

    1. karel says:

      L is for Leprechaun!

  14. WILLIAM MILKOVITCH says:

    Paul, I really don’t know. Maybe a manners consultant ?

    Who knows anymore.

    I prowl the empty streets at night – Waiting. In fast cars, on foot – Living with crime & violence. Us men are on duty 24 hours out of every 24. We face dangers at every meeting, expecting nothing less.

    We protect the people of South Africa – These are the men of Squad SARS

    The story you heard is true. Details are supplied from the official case files of the South African Racing Museum. No names & places have been changed to protect innocent people involved.

  15. Pops says:

    William,William it will not be long before you will be ending your comments with
    “Now this is William the Conqueror bidding you adios, wishing you all the best of luck and to you and to you and especially to you, vaya con Dios”.

  16. Paul says:

    W is for …

    1. karel says:

      Winning Ways? Weight-for-age? Worldsportsbetting? Wragtig pragtig? William M.? (edited)?

  17. WILLIAM MILKOVITCH says:

    Oh yes, like Alistair Cook’s ‘Letter from America’ radio show or Anthony Lejeune’s London Letter ?

    Maybe a weekly letter titled – “Corridors borealis from Joburg South”

  18. Paul says:

    Knew King Karel would get there in the end. I vote for the edited answer …

  19. Brett Maselle says:

    You will never see this type of transparency from Phumelela.

    In my opinion, the difference between the directors of Kenilworth Racing and Phumelela is that the Kenilworth board consists of individuals who primarily act in the best interests of Cape horse racing and not for themselves or others.

    I believe that this distinguishing feature will eventually result in the Cape breaking away from the shackles of Phumelela and the Racing Association.

  20. Rian says:

    Took my grandchildren to graveyard kenilworth on Saturday, hardly any people , lot more stalls than racegoers
    So sad , the biggest cheers for the horses came from the Kids who all had a ball and ran themselves silly
    A big thanks to Burger King for suppling the burgers and chips as well as the refreshments..

  21. Steve Reid says:

    Brett Maselle you must be going soft in your old age. You call a meeting where the only real news is that WC facilities will now be used for alternate means a transparent one?

    What exactly will be happening at Milnerton and Phillipi? More importantly who will benefit from these utilisations? I see the Nadeson lad threw his toys and alleged breach of promises. How surprising. Who will the next list of beneficiaries be and what will their link to the current setup be?

    I sat through the Competition Commission into the merger of Phumelela and KR. It is interesting to see how the major players have benefitted at racings expense.

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