While the initiative by the racing operators to shuffle race- meetings this weekend in an effort to beat the weather bogey is to be lauded, the practical impact on the role-players may have warranted kinder consideration. The most controversial and brave move is, no doubt, the decision to bring the Kenilworth meeting scheduled for Sunday forward to Saturday. But why not the Turffontein meeting? Does anybody acknowledge and even realise that training and preparing racehorses, while not a science, requires plenty of thought and forward planning in respect of two crucial aspects? When talking medication and exercise, that twenty-four hours forward could be crucial and the difference between hero and zero.
Proactivity and lateral thinking prowess have never been at the forefront of priorities in the corridors of horseracing power. It is against this background and history that we should possibly be looking for the positives rather than donning the criticism cap that so often happens as an impulsive first response. It is very difficult to find an example in our, or even the international arena, where a meeting was brought forward for any reason at all and there will be many post-mortems and much debate in the weeks and months ahead.
A holistic courageous business decision or a short-sighted egotistical power play? The decision made just before midday on Friday would not have involved much consultation with the role-players, not those on the ground anyway, in view of the obvious time constraints. But brave it certainly was. The practical considerations of hosting a racemeeting involves lives. Those of horses and people. It involves weeks and months of planning. It involves exercise programmes and medication . It involves travel plans and social commitments. But most importantly seemingly, it involves money.
What led to this radical decision being made? Consideration for the horse, the owner, the trainer, the betting turnover? Was it made without fear and favour? We doubt it. There is little doubt that when the prospects of both the KZN and Eastern Cape meeting started looking dicey and doubtful, that the frightening prospect of a Saturday without a local meeting in South Africa loomed large and the potential loss of income became a reality. Desperate times call for desperate measures, they say.
The musical chairs started with heavy rains countrywide in midweek and on Thursday the Vaal sand meeting scheduled for that afternoon was switched to Friday, with the Arlington meeting moving to Saturday to run in tandem with the Rising Sun raceday at Clairwood. This move was vindicated to a degree as the postponed Vaal meeting went ahead on Friday afternoon as the rain continued to fall on Port Elizabeth.
With hardly a murmur the racing community in Cape Town appear to have rallied for the cause of racing and the fact that the prospect of earning a stake is vital to bank balances and to keeping hard-pressed owners enthusiastic. It outweighs the other risks and we don’t, frankly, race that much in the Cape these days anyway. Sure they could have voiced their protest and cut off their noses to spite their faces by scratching their runners – and that without the usual 14 day suspension.
And the meeting would not have been lost anyway on Sunday. The weather outlook down Cape Town way is for a beautiful weekend. The Stormers – Bulls game is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at Newlands. Is that not going to impact on interest and attendance at Kenilworth ?
The Western Cape folk have just accepted the reality of having their lives turned upside down. A take –it – or- leave –it quiet, crude announcement on Friday just 24 hours before the meeting they never knew was going to happen. The trainers would have done their final fast work and sprint-ups oblivious of what was about to happen. Certain horses lose condition. They need a rest day. They lighten up and need the 48 hour break between final blow-out and the race to recover. Others are less affected.
What about the bleeders? They would have been medicated on Friday. They cannot surely risk a run on Saturday? Owners will know, from their endless vet bills that racehorses use medication and this is a way of life for a large majority of equine athletes. This medication is applied scientifically and in terms of National Horseracing Authority guidelines and rules. Mathematics and biology dictate that seven days is seven days. It is not six days.
What is going to happen a few months down the line when a winner or two from Saturday’s meeting comes up positive? Are the decision makers that implored and encouraged the trainers to play ball for the sake of horseracing going to be jumping to their defence or are they going to be running for cover and not answering those irritating cell-phone calls? Sorry can’t help you mate…
There is no question that the decision was made in the very best considerations of horseracing’s commercial interests. But the Western Cape appears to be the sacrificial lamb and while it is only an hypothesis, the question begs what would have happened if Turffontein or a KZN meeting had to be brought forward? Would they have capitulated so gracefully and meekly?