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What’s Changed In Thirty Years?

James Lightheart was vocal - long before social media

Even in the fairly recent good old days, Racing Administrators weren’t always perfect or the darlings of stakeholders.

The late trainer James Lightheart won the 1995 Cape Derby but was scathing in his opinion of the Milnerton training facilities afterwards.

Lightheart, never shy of controversy, had strong words regarding the standard of training facilities at Milnerton.

MJ Odendaal and the late James Lightheart enjoy Western Rocket’s Cape Derby success

“They’re disgusting. Nothing ever gets done and it was a nightmare trying to prepare horses like Bushmanland and Western Rocket for big races this summer. We all thought it would be better after amalgamation but it’s worse. It’s even a battle to get a broken tap fixed. You go to the administration upstairs but they do nothing. We’ve sat down round a table with them, but they say there’s no money.”

He continued, saying ‘the marketing is just as bad’.

“Look at the Cape Derby. Once upon a time people used to take Met-Derby doubles. This year the first time the race got any real publicity was the day before. There are still new owners coming into the game and there are lots of people still prepared to buy horses. You only have to look at the turnover at the recent Cape sales. But the pity is that people buy horses that break down because of the poor training facilities and then they get out of racing,” he said.

Lightheart’s sentiments were echoed by trainers like Turffontein-based Gary Alexander, who was at Milnerton for several months during summer.

1995 Gr1 Cape Argus Guineas

Bushmanland wins in 1995

But the Derby completed a splendid classic double for Lightheart and jockey and now Summerveld trainer, ‘MJ’  Odendaal, who four weeks earlier teamed up with Bushmanland to take the Gr1 Argus Guineas at 20/1.

Western Rocket ran in the colours of Mrs Norma Marsh, who was part owner also of Bushmanland.

1995 Gr1 Cape Argus Guineas

Piet Botha and Norma Marsh lead Bushmanland into the No 1 box

Talk about a dream summer for some. Western Rocket was the best horse to emerge from the first crop of Jungle Warrior (a son of Fair Season), whose six Gr1 wins made him one of South Africa’s outstanding racehorses of the late Eighties and early Nineties. Western Rocket was bred by Saratoga Stud and is the seventh foal and third winner of the unraced Roland Gardens mare Western Rose, who is dam also of Matchem Stakes winner Western Power.

Western Rocket changed hands for just R11 000 at the Cape Yearling Sale in 1993 and has won six of 14 starts for purses of R349 265, excluding the additional Futurity monies for which he is eligible.

The Derby was the fourth Graded stakes win of Western Rocket’s career, after the Gr3 JWS Langerman Handicap Futurity and Gr2 Clairwood Park Futurity when he was two, and the Gr2 Computaform Stakes earlier that term.

The Derby win put Lightheart on course for the best season of his career with five feature wins to his credit, although he pointed out that it hasn’t been all plain sailing.

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31 comments on “What’s Changed In Thirty Years?

  1. Leon Smuts says:

    What a revealing question in the headline as raised by the late Mr Lightheart. My take is that the fun factor has gone out of racing, or should i say has been forcibly removed by corporatisation which has all but ignored the importance of fun in involvement. This counts for both ownership and punting where many hours and hard earned cash are poured into taking part in this wonderful sport we call racing. When decisions were made to not support local racing beyond critical care the rot set in and decisions driven purely by the operators costs took over common sense and the passion needed to expand the sport.
    It is evident that racing and its assets were purely used by Phumelela to build a gambling empire less focused on racing and ultimately set up for an exit strategy that has now been spectacularly derailed by a set of events starting with the Jooste saga and culminating in Covid 19. In between management has been complicit in many questionable things but the lack of real support for racing must be the ultimate betrayal of the sport and its stakeholders.
    This imminent collapse of the house of cards could be a huge blessing for racing as it has a chance to rebuild with a sounder foundation than it has had for three decades.
    Whatever owners end up doing and wherever punters decide to continue their involvement will be up to the new structure and commitment shown by those ready to collect the baton.
    Everything will depend on the ability to restore the fun factor to racing and showing all patrons that their enjoyment and well being is paramount to those running the sport.

  2. Billy says:

    The photograph of Bushmanland winning the Argus Guineas brings back memories of the post Guineas results of the 16 runners in the race

    Of the 16 runners no less than 10 runners won their next start after the Guineas

    The following horse won their next start Bushmanland, La Mancha, Western Rocket (Cape Derby),Shepherd’s Moon (Paddock Stakes), Northern Host, La Fabulous (Met winner one year later), Wise King, Spectral Prince, Trojan Hero and Shoe Express

    Two runners placed whilst 4 ran unplaced.

    1. Editor says:



    Correct Billy, good point.

    A small tit bit.

    Spectral Prince won on his next start with Freddie Macaskill up.

    Michael Higgs and I won well that day…remember Michael ?


    We phoned Fidelity Guards to help us and then bought that massive bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and extra big coleslaw.

    That was when the Colonel still made it

  5. Carry On Alice says:

    The Guineas that Bushmanland won ended up with 9 Grade 1 winners, Bushmanland, Special Preview, Counter Action, Western Rocket, Shephards Moon, La Fabulous, Shoe Express, Tickets and Tax including Amberpondo who won the Champion Stakes age 6 at Greyville. That was the best 3yo crop ever including National Emblem, Teal, Travel North, Dancing Danzig, Dollar Fortune, etc.

  6. Cecil Pienaar says:

    Mr Ed, we did a good deed today. The Mrs had necessities delivered to her mom today in MP. I placed online with big Supermarket whom delivers same day.

    Tonight Skoonma sends an Sms ” Dankie, waardeer, maar nuwe besem en Red Bull was onnodig, se vir jou man ”
    (thank you, but new broom and red bull not needed 🙄 )

    Article is correct, some things doesn’t change. I topped up the list trying to be nice

    Good Night All.

    1. Editor says:

      You’re a brave man 🙂

  7. Leon Lotz says:

    I left racing for couple of years. One thing that gave me alot of pleasure was to get a dvd of your winner of the day after races.My grooms still come to ask for them over weekends.To watch those dvd’s after races gave me alot of pleasure.Replays does not exsist in a time frame that any normal person can enjoy. I am very far from my first winner ,but I only realise the other day there is no dvd’s anymore.Grooms do not have the luxury of internet and so on. I have said it a 1000 times and more,on tellytrack I want to look at our SA trainers,jockeys and our local bred horses, but invane. It feels like even the small little things that made me and my grooms happy have even been taken away. Still the same story racing does not listen.Certain punters own themself the right to demand info and swear at trainers and jockeys on this form.No one look at a horse in the parade ring anymore, the canter down is most of the times a ruch because of international racing.It became a number game.How exciting was the old days picking a winner in the paradering or the canter down. All that pleasure has been taken away.I want to listen to the interviews of trainers and owners afterwards , because that is one of the things I enjoy about racing.It is no more.If my family switch to tellytrack and there is a trotting horse on overseas they switch channels in half a second away from racing.Maybe it is only me that feels this way.

    1. Editor says:

      Doubt it’s only you, Leon

  8. Pmb says:

    Disagree with that crop being all that great…they beat each other a lot for sure especially as 3 and 4 yo and as a group were above average in number of decent horses.
    Not too long before that had a crop that included Illustrador , Olympic duel, Pas de Quoi, Face North, Goldmark, Flaming rock( albeit northern time was still that crop) Spanish Galliard, Divine Master and a whole bunch of others who despite a lot of ill fortune were many years worth of champs. At least 3 mets, 3 July 4 Schweppes just off the top of my head but many more . Only Empress club’s appearance interrupted even greater heights. So no, not the greatest crop of all time or even in that couple of years

  9. Pieta says:

    Cecil, I recon the old tannie is keeping an eye on you……you need to tip her winner….😁😁

    1. Editor says:

      First four favourites should win in Wyong tomorrow morning, Pieta 🙂
      First off at 04h55!

  10. Pieta says:

    Cecil…..I like that “se vir jou man” bit….lekker gelag 😁

  11. Cecil Pienaar says:

    😅 Ja Pieta, ek gaan nog n boek skryf oor SkoonMa

    N Riller 😂

  12. Gerh says:

    Gosh! I have now seen something I never thought. Leon Smuts has jettisoned his failing diplomatic approach and has expressed his views with aplomb and without holding back. I prefer this new approach of Mr Smuts!

    Well said Mr Smuts!

  13. Graham Martin says:

    They were no match for Teal and National Emblem though in the Guineas Gr1 at Greyville then the Daily News and the July! Although Western Rocket ran 2nd to Tickets And Tax in the Natal Derby (which was then a proper Derby!) If you go back to the 1994 Premiers Gr1 for 2 yr old’s at Greyville on July day the following 2 yr old’s ran, National Emblem (the highest rated in the race with a race figure of 37 ) i will leave a few out but will include the following, Bushmanland ( 34) La Fabulous(34) La Mancha (31) Amberpondo (30 ) Morisco (34 ) Manhasset Hills (36 ) I still have the racecard for this race! Western Rocket did not run in this race but ran against most of these horses in the Cape Guineas!

  14. Pops says:

    Cecil,because Minister Razzmatazz is not offering a reward to folks reporting people who are intentionally encouraging others to break the law you are safe.
    We do not want people moving around willy nilly.
    Reminder Cecil,We are in an Lockdown,—Stay at Home— No Fly Zone state.

  15. Donald says:

    Gerh , yes I agree , Mr. Smuts has posted what seems to be a fresh outlook and concur with every point he has made and if I may add :

    1. I am in horse racing primarily for the entertainment value which has now largely disappeared.
    2. The parade ring and canter down no longer exists in K.Z.N. the horses are saddled out back and the parade ring saddling boxes are now seldom used.
    3. The canter down , if one takes place , has no structure and is really only conducted over the sprint distances. Many horses over the middle distances just go straight to the start especially at Greyville.
    4. The canter past used to be mandatory and is a function supposed to be controlled by the stipes.
    5. In days past if a horse did not parade and / or take part in the canter down that fact was announced by the race caller on course.
    6. When Tellytrack are asked about the poor coverage of S.A. racing we are told this is a gambling channel , well if that is the case the industry better start working on floating a gambling and horse racing T.V. entertainment channel real quick before they find we have all lost interest !

  16. Cecil Pienaar says:

    Very True Pops 😂

  17. Michael Higgs says:

    i remember William i think Vaughan Marshall trained spectral prince

    1. Editor says:

      Late Mr Copeman?

  18. Marina says:

    I echo the sentiments of Leon Lotz who says he likes to watch the local horses, trainers and jockeys in action. I particularly enjoy watching the winning horse returning to the parade ring, seems to me they know they’ve won and they trot along with a spring in their step (and dare I say it – a smile on their face). Some jockeys pat, hug or even kiss their horse! Then there’s the joy of the grooms, trainers, owners and jockeys.

  19. Rod Mattheyse says:

    I was watching Gulfstream a few nights back and I noticed something we don’t do here. They were advertising the late pick 5 and part of the marketing spiel was a guaranteed pool and a TAKEOUT of 15%…. now our Trojan horses certainly don’t market that the take out on long term exotics is 25%!!!!

  20. Pieta says:

    In the mid 80’s I one Saturday morning picked up a gardener from the street to mow the lawn and to do general clean up……in those days you could.
    I was staying in a Milnerton suburb called Sandrift.

    While he was going about his business I was sitting at our outdoor table with the Burger newspaper on the racing page and a castle…
    He noticed the page I was on and immediately said “wimjam baas”…..

    To cut a long story short, he was a groom at the Amos stables and did gardening for additional income.
    The horse was called Windjammer……I remember the green colors…..won a good race that day…..made good money….sadly never saw the gardener again.

    1. Editor says:

      Wasn’t that a grey?


    Yes, green and black braces, Mr Bagel & Gruft.

    I was an articled clerk and had his picture on our office news board.

    My favorite cat then was called Windjammer.

    Pieta, my Aunty Cynthia, bought a new house in Sandrift, when it really was just sand. A horse called House Lights, won the last leg of a jackpot, of which my aunt had a ticket.

    She used the Argus, office talk and names to make her selections.

    As I commented in a previous blog, Windjammer and Wolf Power were my two favourite greys.

    Remember when Windjammer won the first leg of a Saturday Jackpot when entered on his first run in a winners race ?

    1. Editor says:

      House Lights was trained by Theo de Klerk for the Fleggs
      Wasnt he a Persian Wonder x Hard To Beat?

  22. Pieta says:

    Wow William, scary memory!!👍👍


    I wouldn’t have known, Mr Ed. I’m so your right

    I was 9 or 10. But I do remember House Lights, the House my Aunt & Uncle bought and the celebration.

    Good memory by You !

  24. Judy Rous says:

    I think the fun, the glamour and excitement has gone out of racing for people in the industry but also for those that know nothing about racing because by having an exclusively racing (betting) channel, the man in the street does not get an inside view of what the attraction is all about. In the past, every newspaper had entries, results and articles. Every cafe had a poster of the July runners which we would pour over and decide which horse we wanted to win. Even though my family had nothing to do with racing, we knew the top horses and we followed their carreers. Each horse, owner, trainer and jockey has a story to tell, the rags-to-riches stories, the champion racehorse that became a champion stallion and the stories of his progeny. There are so many stories of various horses, trainers, studs and more that could bring racing alive for your everyday person, your possible new owners but we don’t show anybody that side. We need to advertise on the main channels, MNet, SABC 1, 2 and 3 to get to the man in the street. I couldn’t give a shit about Rugby or Soccer but I have their various leagues drilled ad nauseum into my head on those channels. Do the same with racing! Tell them the story of Horse Chestnut, Jet Master, Secretariat, Nureyev. Make the horses come alive, the trainers, the grooms, the jockeys. Tell their stories. When you convey what you feel when you watch the horse work, you show his personality – is he lazy at home and only works at races, does he do naughty things because he has a sense of humour? When you bring the horse and the people alive and not just make it all about money, gambling and just the wealthy, I believe you will attract many new people into the industry, that actually get a feel for the true celebrities in racing – our beautiful Thoroughbreds.

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