Goodwill and Glory

Zimbabwe horseracing has opened its doors and hearts to South African owners and trainers. The invitation to race North of the Limpopo includes a travel subsidy and the opportunity to enjoy thrilling horseracing in top-class facilities .

It’s a move that makes a lot of sense for the right horse and Alyson Wright’s great win with Code Rock in the Gr1 Castle Tankard two weeks ago, may have been the start of something big.

Nico Does his boots!

Betting World sponsored a trip to Zimbabwe’s biggest raceday for Tellytrack’s Nico  Kritsiotis and Gareth Pepper. All work and no play, they say, makes Jack a dull boy. But no dull boys here.

Besides  doing  their odd boot here and there and becoming acquainted with their own taste of glasnost courtesy of a local cocktail appropriately named ‘Gorbachev’ as a result of its’ ingredients, which include  Vodka, Kahlua Coffee Liqueur, Eggnog, Syrup and ground nutmeg, the two Tellytrack presenters have returned home fired up and determined to become goodwill ambassadors for a unique brand of horseracing in a special and beautiful country.

The Gr1 Castle Tankard celebrated its Golden Jubilee on 5 May and is billed as Africa’s oldest sponsored horserace. Thirteen horses competed for a gross stake of $50 000 (that’s American) and it was won by Code Rock, a 50-1 outsider owned by Mauritian interests and trained out of Summerveld. The son of Doowaley started his career down at Glen Kotzen’s Woodhill  Racing Estate in Paarl.  South African jockey Francois Herholdt rode the winner for Alyson Wright. The horse was saddled by Wright’s mom, Penny ‘Gogo’ Fischer, a former professional trainer in Zimbabwe and who now runs her daughter’s local satellite  base.

The  race was called by Kritsiotis on his first visit to Zimbabwe after five years absence. He said it was an ‘absolute honour and privilege to play a part in the big day’ and added that the atmosphere on course was carnival and electric with cars being given away in lucky draws, fashion shows and paratrooper displays.  Besides that, he said that everything ran on time and like clockwork.

According to some local news reports, there were apparently punters and racegoers who weren’t thrilled by what they termed the ‘exorbitant’  price of beer which was sold at $1. 50 for a can of local lager which is going for less than a $1 in supermarkets and a $1 in most places in the town and suburbs.But it wouldn’t be racing if there was no whinging, would it?

Pepper said that he arrived in Zimbabwe, a paradise that he describes as ‘one of my favourite countries’ on the Wednesday prior to the running of the Tankard. “ One is struck by the friendliness and warmth of the local racing hospitality. People can never do enough to make one feel at home. I visited trainer Seb D’Aquino who took me on a tour of the stables.”

Gareth said he was impressed by what he had seen: “ Contrary to some urban legend, the stables are neat, clean and in good order. Horses have everything that they need available to them. Quality feed, good grass, spacious stables and of course, beautiful tracks to train on. This level of quality is a tribute to the resilience of all the local trainers, considering all that has happened,” he said.

The thirty year old Seb D’Aquino has 32 horses in training but has capacity for 75 and he told us that he had fielded increasingly more enquiries over the past few months from South African owners investigating the options.

Pepper confirmed that D’Aquino was one of the most marketing orientated and focussed young trainers he had encountered. “ Seb has the credentials and the will to succeed. He has learnt from top men like Paul Matchett and Neil Bruss. All he needs is the horses and support and he will take off. He is prepared to sit down and talk turkey as regards favourable fee  structures, which are in any event, cheaper on average than in South Africa. That also applies to  veterinary care.”

Pepper said that average stakes are between $600 to $700 per race and that the Mashonaland Turf Club would repatriate the stakes payment to the nominated SA bank accounts.He explained that when one takes cognisance of the racing opportunities, the relative strength of the opposition, the cost of keep versus potential returns and the far more affordable extras such as veterinary care, then the model works very well. He added that the unquantifiable social aspect of the affordable holidays in tandem with enjoying the racing also added up to providing what racing is surely meant to be about – winning, thrills and plenty of fun.

On Wednesday evening, a special awards evening was hosted by Castle, in the newly renovated  Glass House at Borrowdale racecourse. It is now an  impressive venue. People that have played a role and influenced the Tankard over the past fifty years were acknowledged for their support and influence. The who’s who of Zimbabwean racing was in attendance and included a few dignitaries from Castle

On Thursday evening Pepper and Kritsiotis attended the card call for the Tankard. It was hosted at the racecourse by Castle and they again came to the party with a lavish spread and warm hospitality.  It was after the card call that their good friend Andy Lowe hauled the two reluctant party-animals off the local watering hole, Tin Roof, to experience their first encounter with the Gorbachov. The detail is blurred thereafter.

Yearling Sales

On Friday they attended the Yearling  Sales where 66 lots were offered. After the pre-drinks and an official welcome, it is into the Nelson Mandela Hall. There aren’t a lot of horses on sale and the prices are not great. But life goes on.

They commended their host, Robson Chinamasa of the Mashonaland Turf Club, for going out of his way and ensuring every aspect was covered.

Pepper closed by calling on his South African colleagues to take advantage of the opportunities and incentive and to send horses to Zimbabwe: “ I have personally never felt so welcome and at home anywhere else in the world. With the subsidies that will be available for transport and the stakes pools being upped and paid in US dollars, financially it will make sense. That is not even to mention the friends you will make, and the great times you will enjoy as part of the overall experience. I am very happy to assist and answer any queries. “

Gareth Pepper may be contacted on 083 558 7666, or email him at [email protected]


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