Fixing The Basics: A Punter’s Perspective

Bring back the couplings in jackpots and pick 6

Let me say from the outset that I love horse-racing, and I wouldn’t know what to do on a Saturday afternoon if there was none to watch.

It is an exciting and enjoyable way to spend a few hours watching horses race, and trying to figure out who will beat who.

Young England

Michael Jacobs writes in the Sporting Post Mailbag that he has been playing horses since he left school in the early 80’s and for the past 40 years he has punted religiously at least 2 or 3 times per week, and definitely on weekends.

This is my perspective and views of the game, which I would like to share with my fellow ordinary punters.

I am Cape-Town based, so my feedback is based on the Cape racing scene.

Note well too that I am not an owner, so this is purely about punters.

  • Important to understand that the owners and punters are the main customers  in the horse-racing industry/sport, everybody else is employed  and works in the industry- trainers, breeders, jockeys, grooms, operators, tote staff and management, etc.
  • Therefore everybody else is dependent on owners and punters for their livelihood. We are the lifeblood of the industry. Without us, there is no horse racing industry.  Breeders, trainers  and jockeys will be racing for a pie and a Coke  without punters and owners.
  • So put your customer at the forefront of your business- owners and punters, that’s good old-fashioned business, common sense
  • Once all the other stakeholders  understand that, then it is easier to understand what needs to be fixed, and what needs to be focused on by the operators and other stakeholders.

General feedback on horse-racing in SA

Modern life and modern technology has overtaken horse-racing, there are the “old-school” punters like me,  but you need to attract the “new school” punters.

-attract new punters, and  reward loyal, longstanding punters

– handicapping is complicated, you want to enjoy yourself, not do Maths lessons, improve the product,  Merit rating ruined the game, Race figure system easier to understand, and each punter could assess the merit of a horse

– racing must be transparent like in Hong Kong and access to information (not tips!) must be available. Fitness, well being of the horse, form and other info mustn’t be hidden away from the punters, and then during the post-race interview everybody is smug and talking about how the win was predictable. Before the race nothing was said!

– bring back the couplings in jackpots and pick 6

– don’t rip off your loyal customers when it’s the big season- Met, Queen’s Plate, feature races

– bring back the heyday of the J & B Met (picnics on lawn, bring your own food and picnic gear)

– don’t overcharge for food and drinks- that is not your core business, you can attract customers by having more affordable food and drinks and things the customers want—curry /rice, burgers, boerewors rolls, have more foodstalls and give small business a chance as well

– tote staff are poorly trained, give them better training so that they understand what racing is about, they are very slow

-A number of punters would like to have a Punter’s forum to discuss racing from a punter’s perspective with the powers-that-be. Punters are disillusioned with the game and are staying away from the course and the totes. They may be punting online, but to all intents and purposes the game is sliding downwards.

These are some of the main irritants that prevents people from going to the course and the totes.

The following are general concerns about racing in Cape Town, particularly in off-course totes (Saftotes):


Totes in Cape Town-  they are not exactly the most pleasant place to spend an afternoon with your friends and/or partner? The SA totes are quite dingy, although most Betting World totes have been upgraded recently

Seating- tables, chairs? Comfort/condition of facilities?

Toilet facilities- really very poor- hygiene and cleanliness, gender sufficient, one or two cubicles, often not in working order, are there cleaners on duty

– Refreshment facilities?

– Bar, tuckshop, restaurant, takeaways are non-existent in most totes. Give some space to a small businessman to run a tuckshop, helps the community

– Prices  of drinks and food, particularly on-course. Since Mr Bassi left the food and drinks have become exorbitant

Lunch at the Garrett Bar courtesy of Dish Catering

Tote and betting service:

Number of tellers on duty, number of tote machines to place bets often inadequate

-The tote machines are ancient and get stuck regularly. Often offline.

-Availability of staff- why are they off machines for long periods of time? Plan lunches and teas better?

-Importance of having full complement at the start of the exotics (PA, Pick 6, Jackpot)

-Availability of betting info (eg. Tabforms available, betting sheets, tote betting forms, formguides displayed)

-Why is it not possible to buy ALL racing form publications? (Sporting Post and Winning Form?)

Customer service (particularly tote staff)

-Attitude of staff (unfriendly,unsmiling, disinterested)

-Product knowledge of staff (bet types, calculations of different bets, payouts, scratchings)

-Efficiency of staff- process bets correctly, quickly

-Presentation of staff- neatness, dress code, name-badges

-Staff are poorly trained, not motivated. Why not have incentive system- eg. Operator who processes the most bets per week gets a prize (cash, meal voucher, etc)

-Totes are poorly managed. Do totes have managers- display a picture of the tote manager

-Are the staff trained and are they screened properly for the job. Are they numerate and literate?

-Are staff disciplined if there are complaints about poor service or being rude to customers?

Customer Experience- Loyalty, retention, growth

-Loyalty program (at totes and on-course) eg. Swipe a loyalty card after your first bet, or get the teller to capture a customer number

-Tote competitions, lucky prizes, rewards based on spend, etc.

-Win if you Lose ticket draws on course and in totes (5 lucky draws per day- minimum R10 bet to enter, betting voucher prizes

-Free entry for regular on-course punters on Queen’s Plate and Met day (for regulars who frequent the course all the time)

Use modern technology to grow the business and attract new, younger customers- online, social media, on-course activities

-How’s about a punters newsletter, a Kenilworth Racing Facebook group, a quarterly punters Forum, open days for punters at the racecourses? Lots of opportunities exist to engage and get to know your core customer base.

-Key roleplayers to play a bigger part in promoting the game- jockeys, trainers, the horse, owners, etc. Jockeys are rude to punters at the rail and canter past! Why? What’s wrong with a polite greeting or a quick chirp, instead of ignoring the punters?

Piet Botha (photo by Chase Liebenberg, above) used to be the best guy on-course, always a nice comment, smile, greeting, a very pleasant and polite jockey, compared to Fayd’ Herbe and the bunch you guys have there nowadays! Trainers can also be more polite to the punters on-course! Very aloof and arrogant!

-Access to information- newspaper coverage, public gallops, trainer and jockey comments (obligatory), racecourse tours

-Encourage people to attend racing oncourse. EG. Back in the day buses were provided for outlying areas like Mitchell’s Plain, Khayelitsha, or when racing is in Durbanville. Many folk would like to go but if you live in the Southern Suburbs then it’s quite far

-Encourage people to attend racing on-course by allowing punters free wifi access to mobiles

-All analysts and presenters who do selections and exotic perms should be tracked on a ROI basis, whenever the analyst or presenter is on Tellytrack and when their exotics are displayed onscreen.

For example, who would want to play an Exotic of a “supposed analyst/presenter/handicapper” who’s ROI is massively negative over the racing season?

It will separate the wheat from the chaff and out the charlatans. Also the success rate of the presenter/analyst should be published at end of season to give people a clue as to who really knows their game. Or even reward the top tipster.

Too many of these tipsters presenters glibly give their selections, and very often its top 3 in betting! We don’t depend on them (and to be honest we ignore their input), but it would be good to have credible, knowledgeable presenters (like Shaheen Shaw) who was entertaining, informative and knowledgeable. You guys should really bring Shaheen Shaw back!

Some “quick-fixes”, things that can be done tomorrow, 10 “quick-wins:

>Loyalty programs for on and off-course punters – retain and reward your punters (betting vouchers, meal vouchers, points system, swipe at entry point in a tote or oncourse

>introduce 1 or 2 new exotic bets (there are good ideas floating around

> make the Pick 6 a 50c unit again. Perms become exorbitant and the small punter seldom gets more than 5%. The ordinary punter has to win more often, that will increase participation and interest.

>use modern technology! In your loyalty program, free wifi, self-help machines (like the slot machines for straight bets, etc. Online is the way to go, so the big drive should be to grow the online customer base. Also, young people love technology, so that should be how racing attracts a younger customer base

>Punters newspaper/newsletter– keep the punters informed and involved (monthly)

>race every 30 mins like Hong Kong and England. Keep it moving and keep it exciting. A 3 hour meeting is quick and might attract the younger set who like fast-pace

>Fix Tellytrack. Get Shaheen Shaw back, and the guys who were ousted, and get rid of some of the current dead-beats!

Oncourse/tote catering. Fix the food and drinks and you will have more happy customers

>Better training for tote staff. Customer service training is urgently needed

There should be a feature race on the card more often. In the past, there was always a feature race on the card, every meeting, which attracted punters to the course as there was invariably a good horse or more running.

This became the main attraction, got people to the course. PE still has a weekly feature race on the card, and that seems to work well

So that is my perspective of racing as a die-hard punter.

I love the game and will continue playing, but the numbers are dwindling and pools are getting smaller.

Some drastic steps have to be taken to turn the game around.

The 10 quick wins that I propose can be done quickly, and will get the ball rolling to rejuvenate the racing industry that we all love.

  • Pics for illustration only

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