TCO2 Testing – SA Racing’s Road To Damascus Moment

Nobody is buying the rub of the red card

Another day. Another TCO2 scratching. South African horseracing has surely just about reached its Road To Damascus moment?

Our racing is choking itself into obscurity in the ominous shadow of a stakeholder relations nightmare that threatens to unravel every iota of feelgood and positivity created by the 2023 renaissance and the EU gateway opening that many of us diehards believed were turning points.

In The Mercury on Monday morning, we read in an article entitled ‘TCO2 Testing: Where To Now?’ that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’, and, while we should all be supportive of measures which seek to ensure the integrity of the sport of horseracing, the current apparent ‘hit and miss’ scenario, with very little trust in the TCO2 testing protocols, is a huge challenge for Owners, the Racing Operators and most importantly Punters, who can no longer place bets with any degree of confidence into the multi-legged exotic-bet type pools.

That sums up things very well, and after the 5-10 McDazzler became the 39th TCO2 casualty at Hollywoodbets Greyville on Wednesday, we have to ask the powers-that-be, where to now?

The statistics show that we had 3 TCO2 scratchings in April, 16 in May, and 20 so far in June with four days left of the month. What does that upward trend tell us? 

In March 2024, South African racegoers learnt about Total Carbon Dioxide (TCO2).  The National Horseracing Authority introduced a test at race time to detect, amongst other things, a practice called ‘Milk-shaking’.

TC02 testing with hand-held analysers (Pic – 4Racing)

The short explanation is that a universal line exists internationally that separates a ‘normal’ amount of CO2 in the bloodstream from an abnormal amount, and that number is 36 mmol/L.

The way it works is selected horses are tested about an hour before the start.

If a horse registers over 35 mmol/L, then a second test is run about 10 minutes later.  If the next reading is over 36, then the runner is withdrawn from the race.

Everyone understands that higher readings are absolutely not necessarily an indication of cheating. Experts have weighed in to explain that these super-fit athletes can have readings all over the place. On some days all horses tested are just fine, on others a bunch might test over 36.

The concern is that right now there is just no pattern, or seemingly logical, or scientific reason, to understand why.

Obviously short-priced horses and big names stoke the headlines and set social media alight.  Let’s face it that after decades of shenanigans in our beloved country, we are ripe for any conspiracy theory – including that the TCO2 testing machines are rubbish.

Forgotten in all of this is the catastrophic damage to horseracing’s customers. But that’s actually an old bad habit going back decades.

The business part of racing is how it collectively presents the whole show to the public. In this case, to the very people it is trying to encourage to buy horses, and to the dwindling group of folk it once convinced to bet on those horses.

Withdrawals, or scratchings, are a fact of life. And substituting a favourite is our least offensive answer to make exotics and multiples function.

But punters have been rightfully incensed as they realise that since March, they now, more than ever, carry the brunt of the ‘punishment’ as the industry somehow tries to police itself.

Punters are expected to spend large amounts of money on bets such as the Pick 6, only to remain exposed and vulnerable each day to doing their money in cold blood.

Let’s face it. We are dealing with flesh and blood. Mud happens. Most punters are in it for the long run. They have accepted scratchings when they are genuinely an act of god, or the rub of the green.

But none of us is buying the rub of the red card.  As each passing day of TC02 histrionics annihilates another wave of customers, our industry is further marginalised.


To add to the smoke and mirrors insanity, punters are now asking that if a horse is guilty enough to be scratched, why are there no other consequences?  So effectively, the punter is being screwed, and there is not even a slap on the wrists for the alleged evildoers!

Racing functions, like all other sports, on decisions made in the moment, and the consequences are sorted out later. We have the ‘pay-pay’ minutes after a race, and drug tests proceed later.  It’s time for the NHA to figure out that they need a ‘run-run’ to start a meeting, and to sort out their consequences later.

The reality is that each TCO2 scratching may, or may not, be cheating. The owner is punished, and consumers are robbed as the regulators don’t punish any of the perpetrator(s).

No business, and especially a gambling-based labour love, passion – call it what you will-  can survive by punishing the customer to fix its in-house issues.

The time has come for the National Horseracing Authority to find a way to ensure the fun and the flow of the game by not initiating stoppages, and reducing the potential bad news stories.

And, for a flying start, cut the popular power narrative that media platforms who loyally serve the industry and state the facts, are ‘bad for the game’. If the shoe fits, wear it.

It’s time for our racing regulators to accept and understand that they are part of the game, and not outside of it, above it, or bigger than it. 

The rules are supposed to be beneficial and workable.  Let’s hope that it’s not minor issues like ego, or a loss of face, that prevents a change of approach.

It’s high time for the NHA to own it, man up and eat humble pie. Do it today. Tomorrow all is forgiven. Do the homework that should have been part of the introduction of TCO2 testing.

The fact is that we don’t need this drama. All we sick-for-the game diehards want to talk about right now is the upcoming Hollywoodbets Durban July, the projected R20 million Pick 6, the 50 000 champions of all shapes and sizes that will stream through the turnstiles on the day to salute our stars, to create our own hard-luck stories and just enjoy this wonderful sport.

Please Mr Moodley. It’s your time to stand up and be remembered for the genuine racing man we know you are, rather than potentially the supervising architect of a disaster that took our racing to the brink of no return. It’s not too late.

Have Your Say - *Please Use Your Name & Surname

Comments Policy
The Sporting Post encourages readers to comment in the spirit of enlightening the topic being discussed, to add opinions or correct errors. All posts are accepted on the condition that the Sporting Post can at any time alter, correct or remove comments, either partially or entirely.

All posters are required to post under their actual name and surname – no anonymous posts or use of pseudonyms will be accepted. You can adjust your display name on your account page or to send corrections privately to the EditorThe Sporting Post will not publish comments submitted anonymously or under pseudonyms.

Please note that the views that are published are not necessarily those of the Sporting Post.

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments



Popular Posts