Other Side Of The Emerald Moon

Next weekend sees the running of South Africa’s richest race on sand, the Gr2 Emerald Cup. That may come as a surprise to many as the pre-publicity for this event, has quite frankly, been half-hearted. A clip on Tellytrack from the 2010 Idols winner inviting folk to travel out to the Vaal is hardly the kind of hype that is going to get the average racing viewer phoning his travel agent or twisting the wife’s arm to indulge in a second honeymoon at the riverside Gambler’s Paradise.

There is no accounting for taste when it comes to horses and for that matter, music. It would also be unrealistic to expect the racing operator to bring out the likes of a Carly Simon, Pink Floyd or Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark. And if they did, I suppose we wouldn’t even need the racing. And  the live music is really just a sideshow. But seriously, Elvis Blue? Who do we have to look forward to next year? Dewald Louw, Anke Pietrangeli or maybe even Jodie Williams? You probably haven’t heard of them, but they too won Idols.

I am admittedly playing Devil’s Advocate here and encouraging some debate. Ideally, I am hoping to be proven wrong. I must admit to being puzzled, very bloody extremely puzzled.

In between watching my daily menu of racing, I have been confused by an insert from this character who looks like he doesn’t own a hairbrush, informing viewers that he will be singing at The Vaal on Saturday 24 September. Who exactly is this advertisement being targeted at, I wonder? Surely it is not at the captive market that already watches DSTV 232 24/7? If as a punter and racing enthusiast, I need to be lured by this level of attraction to a Group 2 raceday to watch Africa’s premier sand race, then something is very wrong with the show called horseracing. And playing the clip on a racing only channel, is not going to get fresh blood out to Vereeniging either. So what is the strategy here?

Let’s start with the Emerald Cup as an event and a brand as seen by Mr Average Nobody. Allow me to use myself as an example here. I personally watch horseracing every day. Unlike some other average white males, who probably won’t admit it, I surf the racing forums too. I visit the major websites. I read racing non-stop. I also know the personalities. I understand a little bit about the breeding. I can tell you about Jamaican Music and Tom Rattley. About the brilliant Shepherd’s Moon. About Bert Abercrombie and Johnny Cawcutt. About Alec Soteriadis and Expedite and  Baby Killa and Briza. And Rick Stewart and the pint-sized ball of fire, Gloriana. About Ding Dong and Jollify. About Chris Snaith and Torch Song over the hurdles in the amateur days. About two pedigree unknown amateur champions called Izak and Sandy. About Dana Siegenberg and Saccharum. And Theo De Klerk and the Persian Wonders. And Marsh Shirtliff’s first horses. And comical deceit like batteries in whips, and painted horses, better known as ringers. And the chain smoking Sandy Bickett and the fountain of knowledge, Graham Potter. So hypothetically, I should know a little something. But, who cares?

So what do I know? The Emerald Cup has no tradition to speak of as it is entering its’ seventh year only. It has always been a Group 2 race and started out life with a gross stake of R200 000. Guilermo Figueroa rode the Oppenheimers’ Hilti to win it in 2005 for Mike De Kock. In 2006 the prize rocketed to R500 000, when the enigmatic Dom Zaki trained National Spirit gave Piere Strydom the first of his two winning rides. Strydom piloted the Maroun’s Narc to victory in 2007, when the stake had edged up to R560 000. In 2008, the stake crept up to R600 000, and St John Grey’s Alimony will be remembered for a famous late dash win under Devin Habib. Phunyuka won it for Roy Magner and Figgy in 2009 and last year it was won for the second time by the Oppenheimers, when Gunter Wrogemann piloted Iron Curtain to glory.

We have all heard speculation about the curse on the Kennedy and Onassis’ families, and looking at the honour role of the first six runnings of this race, one will note that fifty percent of the winners never went on to win another race. Sounds spooky this Emerald curse. But there might well be a very logical explanation for this. Does it require a superiorly mature horse to win it and does it just finally break what is left of their spirit? Of the six winners so far, four have been 5 year olds, and the other two were six. This at least makes  narrowing the likely winner profile down easier  – it should be a male Fort Wood, preferably ridden by Piere Strydom or Figgy and mustn’t be younger than 5 years of age.

So what don’t I know? Is the race still sponsored by the Emerald Casino-Resort or not? A visit to the Emerald Casino and Resort website would make one believe otherwise. And that is purely by logical deduction. Their forthcoming events promo lists Absa Boktown, Locnville on 18 September, Kurt Darren on 1 October and Bikers 4 Bandanas on 6 November. No horseracing.  If they were a little excited about the Emerald Cup, surely it would get a mention on their site?

A visit to Phumelela’s website tells us that the Emerald Cup is the highlight of the Emerald Spring Festival, sponsored by the Emerald Casino- Resort. What is the Emerald Spring Festival? Then the TAB website has a small block advert for the raceday on 24 September with a picture of Elvis Blue. The Emerald Casino logo does not appear on the 2 by 4 sized advert on the homepage – only the Emerald Cup horsehead, TAB and The Citizen. In fact the block is devoid of anything green. But here is the twist. A ‘click’ on the advert produces another two ads. The Citizen logo disappears from view and suddenly the Emerald logo is there in its place.

I recall in year’s gone by that this weekend had plenty of hype. It was quite a party with a large racing dignitary and media contingent present, mostly staying over and partying  at the Emerald Resort. So I emailed my colleague Robyn Louw. Being the recipient of the 2010/11 Equus Print Journalist of the year award, the industry must surely be wining and dining her and she must have cracked the nod? Nope, she says, heard nothing.

So, should we be getting excited? The marketing focus is questionable. The stake has ground to a halt and hasn’t been increased in three years. The sponsor, if they actually are still the sponsor, have no Emerald Cup weekend specials advertised or any reference to the big race at all. Phumelela have issued two press releases and have a promo clip running on Tellytrack from a singer I personally(I could be wrong) don’t see fitting the general interest and target profile. For owners, stakes will be paid all the way down beyond fourth place – you run eighth, you pick up R3000. Excited?

When is somebody going to catch on to the reality that the media are here to help and to spread the gospel? It seems they’d rather shut us out and deliver a half-baked cake. For that  there will always be more questions than answers.

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