Dubai’s loss is our gain and it will be good to have South Africa’s hottest property new generation racecaller back in the Turffontein eagle’s nest for The Championships Day 3 on Saturday.
There is no question that 2023 has been a watershed character-building year for the 32 year old commentator, widely regarded as our number one caller and a man who has grown in stature since Phumelela took a chance on him as a greenhorn some 14 years ago.
A career defining opportunity, and well deserved international recognition, saw Alistair appointed the Emirates Racing Authority’s English-language race caller at all five UAE tracks at the start of the 2020-21 season, when succeeding the Australian Craig Evans.
Enjoying his second stint in the UAE, and widely regarded for his professionalism behind the binoculars, Alistair was shockingly summararily dropped at short notice by the Dubai Racing Club for last Saturday’s Dubai World Cup racemeeting and replaced by well experienced US caller Larry Collmus.
Chatting to the Sporting Post on Tuesday, the philosophical Durbanite has taken the bolt-from-the- blue knife in the back in his professional stride, but admits he had to call on the decorum of all of his impeccable upbringing, and bite both lip and tongue, initially.
“After every racemeeting, I analyse my personal performance. Nobody is ever too old or smart to learn and the best tool for a commentator is self and external criticism, and admitting one could have done this or that better. Ironically, I felt chuffed and genuinely thrilled after the World Cup curtain-raiser on Super Saturday that it was probably one of my best call days ever. Everything fell into place. As it turns out, the decision had already been made to bullet me for World Cup day, so it had nothing to do with my performance at all,” he muses as he puzzles over something he may never know the truth about.
It was just 24 hours after Super Saturday that Alistair heard from a source that the American caller was going to take the hotseat on World Cup day.
“I was told in confidence and it seems that the decision was known to only a handful of people. I hadn’t been informed prior to Super Saturday as I believe there was concern that it could have impacted on my performance. I discovered that week that the everyday folk in the structures knew nothing – I mean, for goodness sake, I had been involved in the planning for the barrier draw ceremony as I had been in 2022. The commentator is allowed to select the co-host. It was all happening – but somewhere, somehow, the rug had been pulled from under my feet.”
A disappointed Alistair who had left behind his life, his wife, his dogs, his home, his Sunday braai routine and a host of friends, to build his international career, and enjoy the honour and privilege that few get to call a Dubai World Cup, admits that he was wounded emotionally.
He had worked his literal butt off to immerse himself in his new job. To master tongue-twisting names and new silks, and to punt the UAE on his extensive social media network, to become a part of a team. And then they gave him the middle finger.
“For my own pride and dignity, I resigned. My contract was meant to run until 7 April, but they were in breach in view of the World Cup turnaround, and I asked them to kindly release me so that I could return to South Africa. I was very worried about the collateral damage to my reputation. But given the support and communication I have subsequently received from so many corners of the globe from highly respected racing folk, a lot of my anxiety has been laid to rest and the issue has been put into perspective in my head. Bottom line is I personally did nothing wrong, I was never late or contravened any aspect of my contractual requirements. And they have said nothing and can’t tell me anything. In fact when I went to bid everybody farewell, they said they wanted me back next season! Go figure!” he laughs bravely as his brow reflects his puzzlement.
Despite the essentially bizarre decision made by the DRC, Alistair is adamant that it remains an experience of a lifetime and one he will treasure forever.
“To be afforded the rare honour of being the Emirates based caller for nearly two full seasons was sensational. And the friends I made are for life. I will not let a decision that was made behind my back, without the courtesy of consultation, that I had no control over or understanding of, poison my life. It is great to be back home with Candice and we have the Champions Season on the East Coast and The Championships up North to look forward to in the next few months. I can’t wait!”
As to his own plans, Alistair says he would like to call as many meetings as possible countrywide and is keen to impart some of the technical skills he learnt with his colleagues here, in terms of on-course presenting and other communication aspects.
“Being exposed internationally opens the mind. One learns without even realising it. It was great to be back at Hollywoodbets Durbanville last Saturday with their team. What a great vibe and morale!”
As for South African racing into the future, Alistair says his dream and wish is to have unity under one single umbrella.
“We shouldn’t be competing internally. We should be united and taking on the world. South Africa is not far behind Hong Kong, Australia and Japan. We are right up there. Just because things go wrong here and there, don’t believe the same issues aren’t happening elsewhere in the world. This is a beautiful country, with good horses, great breeders, top jockeys, serious trainers and some of the most beautiful racecourses. There is really no excuse to move forward!”