Mailbag: Sound Of Silence

Dave Mollett on awards

Perhaps it’s not as sensational as Tiger Woods and Wayne Rooney getting caught with their pants down, but the “Sound of Silence” regarding the Equus media award has caused massive debate.

To put it in a nutshell, the Equus media award – announced by BBR Bloodstock with much fanfare last year – was swept under the carpet this year with not a word of explanation from the hosts or sponsors of the lavish dinner at Emperors Palace.

The sponsors of the event, Racing South Africa, and Racing Association, which ran it, have tossed the ball at each other and at the end of the day neither have ended up smelling like roses.

“No doubt about it, it was handled badly, very badly,” champion trainer, Mike de Kock, told me. “These things must be open and transparent. In the interest of the sport, they must learn to embrace the media.”

It was Mike whose article in “Parade” magazine prompted BBR chief, Brian Roux, to sponsor last year’s award and he says the thought occurred to him to sponsor it himself once it was realised there was a problem. “I’d have jumped in no problem, but there might have been the perception by some people that I was attempting to buy the media. I decided to rather stay out.”

Charl Pretorius, writing on the website Racingweb, commented: “investigations have revealed that not one word of advice concerning the cancellation of this year’s Racing Journalist-of-the-Year competition was issued to contestants from Larry Wainstein’s office.”

“Two senior journalists confirmed that there was no news forthcoming and only the function itself would reveal what had happened.”

“Well, nothing happened. Zero, Zilch. Not even a short, simple announcement explaining why the racing media would be cold-shouldered this year.”

Charl added that racing media awards were big annual events in the States, the UK, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore with “the racing media respected as pivotal contributors and opinion leaders, and were suitably rewarded.”

“It is said that near 400 people representing the cream of South African racing including several token invites plonked themselves down around the Equus dinner tables to sip wine, compare assets and jewelry and raise their paws for the occasional necessary applause.”

“Truly and utterly amazing then, that not a single racing administrator or executive among them had the balls to get up and say a few words in support of the racing media that supported them all year!”

Asked for comment on this criticism, Larry Wainstein replied to me that “it was under instructions from the board of Racing SA who have taken over the funding of this event. It has now become an RSA event which we organised and ran, but they decided on this (the non-mention of the award).”

Off I go to Peter Gibson for his view and he says: “Whilst Racing SA picked up the tab for the racing awards, the actual management of the event remained with the past steering commitee, including the proceedings on the night. As stated in our formal response to Racingweb’s report, we apologized for the manner in which we handled the journos involved in the compo, but that a new initiative would emerge in due course.”

All in all a sorry mess, but, in Larry Wainstein’s defence, he did ensure that the winners of the monthly prizes for the last few months of the 2009/10 season were paid, and also the second part of my 2009 prize for which my credit card parole officer is decidedly grateful.

Larry also said that “people are complaining, but maybe I should reveal the interest that was shown by our media over the past year – let the truth be known. I am never scared to stand up and be counted, but people get personal which is offsides. Play the ball and not the man. Charl was offsides.”

I can reveal that the media competition was floundering around Christmas time. I’m not usually the last to hear racing news, but it only came to my attention in January that Charl Pretorius and Andrew Bon were boycotting the 2009/10 competition because they were allegedly miffed that one of them hadn’t won the 2009 award.

I found that incredulous as – despite Sporting Post stating that they made Charl favourite prior for the 2009 award – I felt I was in with a shout and even offered Charl a “saver” on the R30000 first prize which he declined at the last minute. Bon later changed his mind and was, in fact, one of the recipients of the monthly prize paid by the Racing Association.

Their actions prompted me to contact several journos – including Sporting Post’s Lance Benson (to his credit he’s not afraid to ruffle feathers) and Racing Express’ Nicci Garner – to encourage them to enter the competition. “Hell, guys,” I said. “There’s R4500 up for grabs every month and at last our contributions to racing are finally being recognized.”

This issue also brought out an amazing comment from Team Valor boss, Barry Irwin, who is reported by Racingweb to have said that the country has a “lazy press”. Well, if that’s the case they certainly haven’t been slow in coming forward to condemn the “sound of silence” at the Equus awards. Mr Irwin may find his often forthright opinion ignored if he makes the trip for next year’s National Yearling Sales.

Dave Mollett – via email

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