Let’s Put More Lipstick On The Pig

Fact - it's the public that pay the purse

Last night I endured a Racing Association meeting at which the hoary chestnut of bringing back the crowds and growing the punters’ base was regurgitated.

Lunch at the Garrett Bar courtesy of Dish Catering

The “race day experience”, dining-room quality and costs as well as food was discussed.


Are we running a restaurant, asks Peter Wrensch in the SP Mailbag?

Or do we want punters, turnover and, especially, public confidence?

Roy Keane would have had a field day lampooning the prawn privileged remotely seated in their boxes.

Fact – it’s the public that pay the purse.

Racing needs them to have full confidence in the betting product and remain fans.

In the halcyon 1980’s there were crowds, large full stands and packed totes.

But most significantly, there were top horses. Lots of them. As there were trainers and owners.

These shared in the broad base of decent stock that paid it’s way, or a portion thereof, through a career that kindled optimism.

Met gates were shut to keep people out. And the champions in.

From my foray into racing in 1977 there was a consistent conveyor belt of seriously good horses.

Household names like Politician, Over The Air, Quarrytown, Bold Tropic, Wolf Power and plenty others galvanised the fan base and attracted numbers seeking to watch the best.

No one goes to the Currie Cup rugby and cricket equivalent anymore.For the reason that it’s not the best.

Run-of-the-mill racing today has emulated this.

In 1979 I recall Cape Top Division sprints boasting fields of 20 and the barrier to entry was 7 wins.The Guineas was 3.

The Eliminator, The Cruel Sea, Lovely Rhythm, Tucson, Horatius, Green Silver were then relieved by Lord Randolph, What A Beauty, Flobayou, Lurgan, Front Cover and a conveyor belt of top horses.

Nationally, compare every Top Division sprint race nowadays and name the star with Bolt-like attraction. Simply, racing does not put on a show of calibre.

Why not?

Three horses currently stand out and Sun Met 2020 will be a “kykweer” of the 2019 edition and the July.

In truth, this is the best in many years.

The reason being the costly failures at the Dubai Carnival as the European horses have moved in.

The present calibre of local horse does not match the international competitiveness that marked the first decade of this millennium.

Fanciful local merit ratings are not translating into stakes successes abroad.

What happened to the quality and depth? Are we breeding poorer stock?

This should not be the case given the commendable huge investment in importing quality stock.

The question arises why this stock is not translating into a wider base of smart horses that excites and enthuses.

This is where the crux of the problem lies.

Any prodigy is snuffed out in a quest to promote mediocrity.Quality talent is stifled and hampered from fulfilling true potential.

Public gallops and time trials can saturate the marketing process and transparency agenda, but if these are not permitted to translate into reliable performances then these initiatives, like the KZN experiment, are doomed.

The quest to attract turnover through the Lottoesque approach of big payouts has cultivated gambling akin to lucky numbers, where most numbers can win, but destroyed public confidence in the reliability of form.

Racing results across the country do not engender confidence.

Consequently, this disillusionment has delivered the death knell to betting on horseracing.

The concept of giving every horse equal opportunity is commendable but should not be at the expense of superiority. Compromising the superior has deprived racing of its stars which are the showpiece to effectively market the sport as one of excellence.

So where have all the top horses gone?

The paucity of depth in quality I believe is a direct result of the Merit Rating handicapping system that for young emerging horses, is just that – a handicap.

Thumbsuck 2 year old ratings and a blanket allocation to black type races has seen horses seriously overrated.

Our geese are not swans.This year’s Met proved that.

Smallest field and a match-race result.

Head Honcho’s subsequent performances will show whether he becomes a victim of the theoretical imposition.

To date, 7 months later, he hasn’t substantiated a rating of a top horse.

Early 3 year olds for many years are struggling until they mature physically into their handicapper’s assessment. Too many horses are taking up to a year to win again.

This has destroyed the faith in horseracing and if we are looking for scapegoats for dwindling betting support and supporters look no further than the merit rating system.

Especially as currently applied to 2 year olds.

I was a punter and a bookmaker, but seldom bet now.

Every trainer and jockey will be asked for card markings, but I simply draw a line through the Merit Rated races.

The only way to beat this system is if the handicapper has made an under assessment of a horse’s ability and this is highly unlikely given the bloated ratings horses are given.

Just toss on another TEN points.

Inconsistency is another killer of punters’ confidence.Cane Lime ‘N Soda wins a maiden by 8 1/2 lengths and  is rated 90. My horse, Captain Garett falls across the line in a Workrider’s and gets 86. 2 lengths!

In our optimistic dreams, we wish we have a gelding this good.

In time, many months and much expense, he could be that rating.

What of the long shots who finished close up?

A 4 year old filly making her debut and a 3 year old gelding with a previous 10 length 4th. Until horses reach these theoretical assessments they get hammered physically.

Many buckle mentally and others physically.

This week saw the aforementioned Cane Lime ‘N Soda beaten by a journeyman Jay Rock and the promising Silver Operator by an under-prepared older horse.

Does this develop the horse?

Is it in the horse or the owners’ best interest?Definitely not.

The facts show the vast number of horses that tumble down from their glorified 2 year old ratings.

They never make the grade and hence the pile of poor older horses that clutter up the lower merit ratings.

The handicapper has brutally admitted to this slaughter through the fabricated 10 point raise.

This lipstick-on-a-pig won’t make them better or run faster.

And it certainly won’t get me dashing 70 km from a cricket field to the course as I did when Tucson clashed with Horatius as early 3 year olds.

The well beaten 3rd horse, Mini Wave went on to win 9. How many have done this in the 3 major centres?

In Cape Town the current stat is 23 who have won 5 or more.Hardly the depth to excite, is it? Or the confidence to follow good horses.

Considering that these will be giving away as much as 8 kg, it behoves that there will be an even greater erosion of punters confidence.

It is devalued to simple gambling.

Any wonder that punters choose casinos over horseracing?

Pics-Candiese Marnewick / Chase Liebenberg

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