How To Fix SA Racing

Everyone knows that changes are needed. Let's do it!

The Racehorse Owners Association (ROA) in the UK and various groups in South Africa, including SANTA (South African National Trainers Association), have called for urgent reforms, transparency and good governance of racing in their respective countries.

So writes JOAO DA MATA, co-founder of the International Racing Club (IRC).

One thing is for certain – change will come in both countries, whether it is now or a few months down the line.

It cannot and won’t be stopped, but wrong decisions can take everyone further down a path we may not be able to return from.

South Africa’s Sporting Post is running a poll asking for solutions to improve SA racing.

Part of their request was for contributors not to mention past misdemeanours. Okie Dokie, then, we will leave all 294853 of them out and remain positive in our assessments/suggestions.

Ryk Neethling

Being a Joburg boy naturally means that my only fancies in the Cape are the ladies. I am not a big fan of Cape Town, The Mountain, the traffic, the racing and the weather.

Having said that, the mother city is stunning at times and offers plenty to many of our international clients who love racing there. As we know, too, Cape Town is an attractive place for British-based owners because of the exchange rate and the fact that many own holiday homes in the shadow of The Mountain.

Western Cape Racing, however, is arguably the first place to start if you want to address problems in SA racing, and it will mean starting simultaneously at four ends of the spectrum – owner, trainer, jockey and punter. I will explain and break down a plan below.

  • Western Cape

Shut down Western Cape Racing for six months of the year. Take all the savings and plough it back into six months of high-quality racing in the form of stakes.

The Cape summer is ideal for racing in all respects including near perfect weather and increased tourism – October through March should feature R150k Maidens and everything above that with massive injections of cash.

Savings aside, a six-month super-season will bring the best quality horses and horsemen down to the Cape from all centres. Trainers from Johannesburg and Durban will find it financially worth the trip with raiding strings. In the six months off, Cape trainers can base themselves elsewhere or raid, with weekly racing in the Eastern Cape coming into play.

Also, the annual winter migration to Durban is evidence that there is an appetite for this.

Cape racing will finally thrive, fields will be massive and of high quality, the best horsemen- and women will compete against each other and I have no doubt that sponsors from the top drawer will be attracted like Gaynor Rupert has done at the Queen’s Plate Festival. Betting pools will grow and QUALITY will prevail (punter ticked).

  • KwaZulu-Natal

KZN should be treated like a mini-UK, using three racecourses namely Hollywoodbets Greyville Polytrack, Hollywoodbets Scottsville and the Scottsville Inside Track.

The suggestion is to shut the Hollywoodbets Greyville Turf track for six month and in this period to utilise the remaining three tracks for betting fodder.

Reader Cecil Pienaar’s image of  Hollywoodbets Scottsville – circa Feb 2019

I cannot fathom why in 2021 we still don’t have a Hollywoodbets Scottsville meeting from 10h00 till 14h30 and then a Greyville Polytrack meeting from 15H00 to 19H30 on the same day.

This idea can also be used to limit riders (like the UK) to X amount of rides per day which would open up rides for the lesser lads and lasses.

KZN should be racing 6-8 times a week for 9 months.

Remember for 6 months of the year there will (in theory) be a high number of extra horses based there from the Cape. The takeout from those pools should then be allocated to the three months of quality racing on the turf track (May, June July) and once again to race for R150k Maiden stakes and up.

So yes, we may annoy punters with racing of lesser quality for nine months, but they won’t stop betting because the fabric of the new system will bring betting opportunities (new dominant jockeys and trainers, new ‘stars’ among the lesser lights, etc), but they will also be offered three months of high-end stuff to wait for, and be able to bet on and watch the stronger fare from the Cape.

Again, like the UK, during the “off season” we could have “Qualifier” races for the in season. New options come into play.

  • Eastern Cape

We have opted to omit the Eastern Cape reference – SP Ed

  • The Highveld

Sufficient horses and quality horses to continue as it is. The one thing I would say though is that because of the past, stakes in this region are appalling.

This needs to be addressed.

For me it’s simple – introduce 2-tier racing! This means R40k maidens/handicaps providing betting fodder for punters and more chances to race, afforded to weak horses and small stables. The savings should go to 150k maidens again, for 3 months of the year.

The often-read comments made by purists that they miss the ‘good old days’ GET OVER IT.

We raced twice a week and of course we thought that racing twice a week along with Boy George playing on the wireless was the barometer. Times have changed. Those days are gone. Ed Sheeran is quite good too.

Look, I love the past and I love quality horse racing.

The IRC will this year once again be at The Arc and at The Breeders Cup.

However, one (the purists) need to accept and accept pretty quickly that the lower end racing is here to stay and actually forms a very important role in the overall merry-go-round of the sport.

If you think that the Breeders Cup, the Kentucky Derby and the Saratoga Festival is the only horse racing in the USA then you need to Google places like Arapahoe Downs and Elko Fair where they raced for a $4500 race the other night or indeed Grand Prairie where $3800 was the order of the day.

Animal Kingdom wins the 2011 Kentucky Derby

Do the math and then talk to me about the past. Every country needs its ‘bread-and-butter’ racing to survive and thrive!

There is NO DOUBT in my mind that via clever stakes allocations and seasonal racing (true seasonal so NO OFF-SEASON SHUT IT DOWN) can turn SA racing around and heading in the correct direction.

The Maiden Plate is where it all starts .

I still don’t know why SA does not have sellers and claimers, which allow for self-handicapping and therefore allow horses to be raced in races whereby trainers/owners can set the weight carried and therefore create a handicap. Anyone can then bid on the horse pre-race and the winning horse goes to the winning bidder.

BUT maidens remain important. So, we should have R30k maidens, they should be for the purpose of:

1: The thrill of the win and a winning Photo

2: Sending the horse to a weaker centre

3: Replacing the horse so trainer does not lose out

We should also have R150k maidens.

Proper maidens where everything in the race is being tried over the correct distance, where true form lines manifest themselves. They should carry a R5 000 acceptance fee refundable if:

1: you run in the 1st 4

2: you finish within 1.5 seconds of an agreed time over the distance.

These suggestions by the way FIX quite a number of the punters’ problems. Reliability becomes a reality. From holds up and horse can be counted on to deliver.

Next on the agenda NEEDS to be a PROPER LIVE horse population database (The IRC offered to do this).

Sarahdane Stud

This would allow trainers to PLAN their horses’ careers without depending on a programme that is handled by 2 or 5 humans. Ridiculous.

This should be a hybrid of machine intelligence with a little human input (and by this I mean the TRAINER, not people employed to create the programme. They should not exist).

The trainer should be able to (anonymously) upload his stable, his distance requirements and time frame, for each horse in his/her yard and the AI will programme accordingly.

Pattern races and quality horses take care of themselves.

The IRC looked at this extensively in our private capacity and we are here to talk to anyone that wants to listen. Again, this will help the punter as horses will be running on or as close to the “peak date” over their correct distance as opposed to the explanation, “I’m running it here because there is no other 1200m race planned for the next 7 weeks”.

Last, but by no means least, fix the offering provided by TAB!

We have heard for yonks that outdated software is the problem, but this is absolutely no excuse.

A new-look, professional online betting platform and a small aspect called customer service can make a huge difference. Betting income through TAB are what funds SA racing now and wil do so in the future.

Let’s ask this from the MOD task force: What have you done to address the multitude of problems at TAB?!


So shuffling this all around, taking extensive breaks, a little bit of planning and acceptance that change is needed and voila! SA racing can be back heading in the right direction.

PS: Finally, don’t forget we sell our live racing product (pictures) to the world. But don’t ignore the benefits of Virtual Racing. When this was launched in the UK people laughed BUT guess what, it’s nearly 18 years later and it still brings in revenue.

Punters bet on anything, whether it’s virtually created or not, but they prefer the live product, even if that means betting on 6-horse fields racing for R30k.

This is NOT our HIGH END product though and we should all accept that, but it does play a vital ‘filling’ role.

Ed – the winner of the case of Avontuur premiere range wine for the comment adjudged best in the #letsfixsaracing poll will be announced in the SPRINT – published on Wednesday afternoon.

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