Horse racing, especially in the Western Cape, lost its lustre for a while. But two hard-working enthusiasts – Greg Bortz and Owen Heffer – are turning this around.
Gary Lemke writes on www.dailymaverick.co.za that unlike many of the great racecourses of the world, there is no statue of a famous horse paying homage to exploits at Hollywoodbets Kenilworth. Not yet, that is.
In time, who knows? Perhaps there will be a Pocket Power statue, or Wolf Power, Politician, Sea Cottage or Horse Chestnut. Perhaps Charles Dickens. It would be a permanent reminder of the giants who have graced the turf.
However, when they come to honour the great achievers, perhaps they will also find room to acknowledge two men who have saved racing in the Cape from oblivion.
With Cape Racing floundering in 2022, Greg Bortz and Owen Heffer embarked on a path to turn the industry around. Racing returned to Hollywoodbets Kenilworth on Sunday, the first meeting of the season, after the first four months had been held at its country cousin, Durbanville.
Record crowds had flocked to the “country course” venue from August to late November, but the 1974 Bachman-Turner Overdrive hit, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”, could have been re-released in the past week.
Simply put: The venue is unrecognisable from what it was when last seen publicly in July. A facelift for the grand old lady of the Cape racing scene? Not even close. More of a complete makeover.
How did we get here? Bortz takes up the story:
“(Former Kenilworth racing co-chairman) Robert Bloomberg came to see me. I knew that racing was in bad shape, and the product was getting worse and worse,” Bortz said.
“But I was not aware of the extent of it. I was told that Hollywoodbets were looking at the situation. Through that process, we were put in touch with one another. I didn’t know that Owen was Hollywoodbets, but I knew him from Winning Form days in the 1980s.
“My view was that partnering with the biggest bookmaker made complete sense. That happened to be Hollywoodbets. In Owen’s case, his overriding primary objective was to save racing.
“Hollywoodbets, of course, enjoy a secondary benefit – namely if racing is saved, there is still horse product for its customers to bet on.
“So, the strategy made sense on both an altruistic and business level: raise stakes to stimulate the demand, which produces more owners, which means more horses being bought, which means more horses being bred, which means a bigger horse population, which means bigger fields, which means more betting turnover.
“The manner in which Owen and his team do things is inspirational. Not only is Hollywoodbets an exceptionally well-run organisation, but they always do the right thing.
“They always prioritise others and the community. The reality is that I am the one doing interviews and, in the forefront,, but I would be nowhere were it not for the leadership, guidance, support and encouragement of Owen and his team.”