A Brave Face Is Not Enough

Punters & Owners - what can they expect?

I watched the National Yearling Sale from start to finish.

I have always enjoyed the spectacle offered by horse sales and this year was no different although the introduction of bidding on Zoom added a really interesting new dimension.

Garrick Bergh writes in the Sporting Post Mailbag that what does, however, really bother him is the totally overstated optimism that followed once one critically analyses the statistics and the comments (spin?) by the usual tame insiders.

  • 479 lots were ‘carded’.
  • 46 were unsold. This is one of the few statistics which actually did not deviate much from previous years.
  • 138 lots were withdrawn. This is a staggering statistic. I have seen little to no comment or meaningful analysis as to why so many lots were ‘no shows’.
  • 295 lots found new homes. This number was 39 lots below the previously recorded all time low dating back to 2007 (source: BSA).

But it is the ‘story of the money’ that reveals the harsh reality of the state that the industry currently finds itself in :

  • The aggregate of R87,065,000 is a drop of 37,4% from 2019 and a sobering reminder that back in the heady days of 2008 (when admittedly more yearlings were consigned and sold) the sale took in no less than R 201,050,000. Adjust these figures for inflation and the diminishing value of the rand and you quickly see that horse sales are actually a shockingly pale shadow of what they once were.
  • The above history needs to be measured against the reality that other sales companies have entered the market so the virtual monopoly enjoyed by BSA in years gone by has been eroded in the last decade. Nevertheless – as the generally accepted premier sale in South Africa – it makes for disturbing reading.
  • A glance through the ‘released by’ column of the sale results does nothing to instill confidence and hope going forward. Trainer representation as ‘purchasers’ has been drastically curtailed whilst private buyers – often referred to as the middle/lower market – have all but disappeared. A number of industry insiders continue to allude to this situation with an almost ‘who cares?’ attitude. They should! It won’t take too long before they struggle to fill fields through a sheer shortage of racing stock.
  • Lastly – probably the most unsettling of all the signs that I had sight of in the last week was this extract from a Phumelela letter dated 29.07.2020 regarding the road ahead. (The italics are mine) :

‘Several attractive proposals have been received from parties interested in acquiring some or all of the assets and/or businesses of the Company.

The business rescue practitioner and his team are busy evaluating the proposals and are in addition engaging with these proposers with a view to concluding agreements which will achieve the best outcomes for creditors and shareholders and in doing so successfully rescue the Company.

Readers can draw their own conclusions but may reflect on the following:

  1. Does this perhaps throw some light on why the team that was formed to guide us into the future has been remarkable by their silence in recent weeks. Have they been ‘paused’ pending the outcome of negotiations? Or are they actually devoid of ideas as to how to re-ignite the sport outside of protecting narrow interests?
  2. Nowhere has reference been made to the sports’ two most important players and what they might expect going forward :
  • The PUNTERS who continue to fund this largely broken mechanism; thereby keeping the flickering flame burning whilst ‘interested parties’ plan their assaults on the prey.
  • The OWNERS who also continue to nurture the raw material (the horse) for vastly reduced remuneration; thus ensuring that the activity is still actually functioning at all.

Why do I get the impression that we are about to witness a ‘change of jockey’ with absolutely no change in behaviour?

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