Racing Renaissance

Anybody visiting Durbanville Racecourse on our Heritage Day public holiday, could be forgiven for imagining that they had stepped into a time warp and gone back twenty years to a Cape Hunt amateur meeting. I don’t go racing very often, but can’t remember when last I saw so many shiny happy people having a great time.

I was reading somewhere recently where it was suggested that the first sign of your boss wanting to get rid of you, was when he put you in charge of marketing. Let’s face it, everybody knows everything about marketing and public relations. Accountants tell the marketing guys how to do it. I’ve never heard it happen the other way around.

And the know-alls when it comes to the expertise includes us media boffins who dish out advice on a weekly basis to the racing gods. We love to pose the questions as to why they seem to be walking around(they don’t run generally) like headless chickens, doing sweet nothing, and why they are not adopting our simple common-sense solutions to all their problems.

But they got it sweetly right on Monday, by the looks of it on my drive-by lightening visit.

An Idiot Observes

It may not have come anything near to the larney Emerald show up North, but it was all happening at the Big D. The braai fires were going, kids running around, young couples were making out on picnic blankets, punters lining the rails and queing at the tote windows, while the caterers were doing a brisk trade – in short, there seemed life was back at the course !

I haven’t been for a while, but faces on racecourses don’t change in ten years. I heard that the ‘Bag Lady’ has moved on to the racecourse in the sky, but there were plenty of new faces at Durbanville.

From ruddied Dutchmen, reddening under the combined cocktail of Castle and sunshine, and the effort of trying to decipher the race card hieroglyphics, to the demure regulars wondering how Kannemeyer’s Hot Ticket got up at 40-1. They stood awkwardly along the running rail in their shorts, crocs and open-necked shirts yelling unintelligible instructions with an added fist pump as the pack passed the post. They couldn’t pronounce Capetown Noir, and when Hammie’s Hooker went missing in the fourth, they just turned the chops and opened up another of Charles’ cans. No sweat.

For the boys who weren’t there to just watch the horses, there were also plenty of girly groups sipping wine and clutching handbags.  An odd group at the races. These tended to watch the horses quite closely and one or two took the moral high ground in their ignorance, berating some stable staff about perceived heavy-handedness with some of the horses.

Stake House

Local families, bravely pushed their boundaries beyond the local Spur, found spacious, safe grassed playing areas, a jumping castle and plenty of other kids to play with.

I also noticed the odd wheel-chair and except for the Members dining room, Durbanville is quite easy to get around generally. Why don’t we advertise this ?  There are precious few disabled friendly venues around.
Racing was on show and the public lapped it up.   A lot of longer distance races made for perfect entertainment with the starts close to the stands for everyone to get a good look and involved in the sounds and the smells that used to get our young hearts racing in the sixties.

Not that any of the new visitors cared, but the personalities were there too. Justin Snaith as always looked suave and clean-cut, smiling into the camera and generally adding a touch of glamour and proving the exception that racehorse trainers can be generally good-looking types. The local Roy Orbison, KFM Cowboy Rouvaun Smit, loomed large and smiling from his eagles-nest over the far stand and it was great to watch him again, binoculars in hand, calling the runners home.  It is probably worth mentioning that the acoustics at Durbanville seemed good and one can actually understand some of the commentary, unlike Kenilworth, where it all breaks down into so much white noise.


So, a successful day by all accounts. It would be interesting to hear an analysis of the important stuff like tote turnover – on a weekend that caught pay-day a few hours too soon for many.

How does the local industry capitalise on all this great good fortune, and all the new visitors? I didn’t see any official working the crowds to assess the visitors and measure the demographics, asking  what people thought, where they were from or how they’d heard about the day  – you know, basic market research.  Did the newpaper ads work, was it word of mouth or their facebook page?

Might have been a good idea too to have people handing out information on our next meeting or inviting folk to the next big event.

At this rate we may even see the Heuwels Fantasties or that lazy DJ performing at Durbanville one of these beautiful summer days. In the meanwhile, hats off and well done to whoever initiated the effort.


Where is  Focus?

I haven’t seen that excellently informative show World Focus on Tellytrack of late, and wondered what had happened to the Dave Mollett hosted programme. Whispers were that it had been canned due to a lack of sponsorship. Phumelela Media Exec Ken Rutherford confirmed that the show had not been dropped , but that ways were being sought of improving it.

“My two producers recently visited Australia and New Zealand in search of new ideas and to see how they do things. We are looking at improving it and while expenditure/ money is always a concern, I would not sack a show because of that. I expect our guys will return armed with ideas on how to improve all programming – including World Focus,” said Rutherford.


Racing In Shame

On a more sobering note after the frivolity of the past long weekend, is the  shocking news that the Coastal Horse Care Unit based in Cato Ridge KZN had rescued nine emaciated horses on 4 September, including a thoroughbred stallion, and were looking for help.

The Coastal Horse Care Unit(CHCU) is an NPO and monitors horse welfare throughout KZN. Punters may recognise this excellent cause through the recent heroic efforts of jockey Chris Taylor, who sadly unlike most of his colleagues, put something back into the game that provides him with his  lifestyle, by risking life and limb to raise funds by running the Comrades Marathon.

The CHCU rescues, rehabilitates and rehomes horses and have full inspectorate authority throughout KZN. Their main benefactor is Gold Circle. They are also supported by the National Horse Trust and other supporters in the horse industry, as well as private companies and individuals. The CHCU is affiliated to The Highveld Horse Care Unit and the Eastern Cape Horse Care Unit.

The CHCU crew include Gill Olmesdahl, who acts as the Chairperson and oversees the management of the unit on a voluntary basis. She is also qualified as an Inspector, which gives the CHCU authority to confiscate horses that are neglected by owners, or in need of veterinary care. Gill says that this course is always a last resort and that they do try and work with owners through education and assistance.

The CHCU staff includes Vanessa Beets, who is Stable Manager and in charge of rehabilitating horses, rehoming and rural outreach clinics. Their two full-time Grooms are Moosa Dotshe and Sanela Kunene. Norma Ray plays the roles of a part-time administrator and assistant to Gill Olmesdahl.

The CHCU currently house 31 horses at the farm after the 9 recently came in on 4 September. This is  well above their capacity of 20 horses. This has since been reduced to 26 through re-homing and assistance from supporters.
Gill says that the facility is very understaffed, and that they are desperately in need of a more consistent income to enable the unit to employ more staff so that they can cope with the growing issues around horse welfare and cruelty to horses.

A sensitive point to all racehorse owners and trainers will be Gill’s assertion that owners and trainers of horses have a moral obligation to horses in their care to ensure that they are not sold into environments that are not suitable.

The nine horses rescued on 4 September, included a thoroughbred stallion which had to be taken directly to hospital as it was badly injured and in a lot of pain. Gill confirmed that there were two owners of the group of horses. She says that the one owner signed two of his cross-bred horses over to the unit and the other owner, who owned the six emaciated ex racehorses, and one cross-bred horse had lost his job and was unable to feed them.  Through negotiations, all of his horses were surrendered to the unit.

The arrival of this group have put a huge strain on the financial resources of the CHCU. All needed farriery and corrective trimming due to the advanced neglect of their feet. They were also in dire need of regular dentistry and some of them were suffering rain scald and minor wounds.The rescue farm in Cato Ridge can only accommodate 12 horses in stables, and all the thoroughbreds needed to be accommodated which had the staff at the unit juggling horses. Some of the horses had to be kept outside in shelters,due to the limited space at the unit.

Gill says that trainer Craig Eudey, a supporter of the CHCU assisted by taking one of the horses, Refresh, who raced as recently as 2011 into his care. Refresh will be housed at Craig’s Yard in Summerveld. She also said that Tracy Woolard, a supporter of CHCU, who runs a pre-training yard owned by noted breeder and owner Rupert Plersch, took in another thoroughbred mare named  Vanessa (unchipped) to the farm in Summerveld.

Gill said that they have managed to trace some of the ex-racehorses by scanning them. This is not intended as a name and shame exercise but these names were provided to the Sporting Post by the CHCU:

LADY ZELATOR- bay mare, 10.11.2000; Zelator x Emina, by Gladiator Enterprises.
TUDOR FLAME – bay gelding, 31.08.1999; Fire Arch x Noble Swan by Primo Dominie (GB)
REFRESH – chestnut gelding, 28.07.2007: Modus Vivendi (GB) by Mi Kouschla by National Emblem
CHEECK (name given by ex-owner) – chip no 978 00000 1273873. No information.
Gill said that the CHCU was in desperate need of support for all these horses, and pleaded for sponsors and anybody who was willing to help to even donate a bag of feed, teff, lucerne, dewormers – basically anything!
She asked interested folk to visit their website (  for details. Or even pop along to Equitack in Hillcrest and Natal Saddlery, where they conduct accounts.

Cash donations via EFT are welcome – The Coastal Horse Care Unit, FNB account no. 62220717815 branch code 221526. Gill may be contacted on 0735503061, or Vanessa on 083 633 8986.

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