Who Will Be Next?

Barends, Du Plessis, ?

Manic Monday. Wacky Wednesday. Freaky Friday. Super Saturday. We love the alliterative affection! But what name for a Tuesday when two of South African horseracing’s captains jumped ship?

Gone – Lyndon Barends

Lyndon Barends – then a few hours later, Phumelela CEO Rian du Plessis. Both for personal reasons.

In March 2016 the National Horseracing Authority of Southern Africa proudly announced the appointment of ‘seasoned businessman and philanthropist’ Barends as its new Chief Executive.

Barends, who is said to have grown up in a shack in Crossroads outside of Cape Town, came in to head the protector of the integrity of our beloved sport, not knowing the tail from the head of a horse. But he seemed to have the credentials. He wore the tie, ticked the BEE boxes and had been around the block. Little could we have dreamed at the time that it would be the chopping block.

He was also said to have been hand-picked. One of the chosen few.

But the cracks showed early. He spoke a big game, enjoyed the perks. But delivered a lot of window dressing – and was haunted by the rattling bones of personal skeletons past.

Things hit the fan when the Cape High Court roll for September showed banks going for the jugular. Sequestration is a dirty word in all eleven of our official languages. For the head of our much revered jockey club, it was a label he would battle to shake and it would prove fatal.

Barends took the officially honourable step and resigned. In the process he saved himself and the NHA board the embarrassment of a gun-fight. But questions remain.

A leading breeder speaks-click here

The NHA board owes the industry many answers. Both about their own competency and undertakings that due care and prudency will apply when assessing future applicants.

In a seemingly unrelated move, Phumelela Gaming and Leisure CEO Rian du Plessis resigned after ten years at the helm of SA’s biggest tote and racing operator.

A public company, Phumelela is licensed to operate horseracing and totalisator betting in seven of South Africa’s nine provinces.

Phumelela CEO Rian du Plessis

Outgoing Phumelela CEO Rian du Plessis

While horseracing was never his passion, Du Plessis has always enjoyed something of a rocky relationship with traditionalists and dyed-in-the-wool racing folk. Like Barends, he probably didn’t know the difference between the winning post and the starting stalls, but apparently came with a solid track record in the corporate world.

A close friend and confidante of Markus Jooste, who sat on the Phumelela board before his shock resignation at the start of Steinhoff’s accounting crisis in December last year, Du Plessis came out of the closet in May this year when declaring his association with Jooste, after he had been asked by the former Mayfair boss to become a trustee of the family’s Silver Oaks Trust.

“Markus Jooste and I met in January 1979 as students at the University Of Stellenbosch. Our families have become close and personal friends,” said Du Plessis.

A courageous and bold move at a time when most who had benefitted from the Jooste magic had gone quiet and pretended that they were where they were, purely on merit.

Du Plessis’s Tuesday departure comes after Phumelela’s share price was wounded by the Steinhoff share collapse. Mayfair Speculators was the second-biggest shareholder in Phumelela through Kalamojo Trading & Investments, and any company with links to Steinhoff naturally risked being tainted by the scandal.

Phumelela shares have unsurprisingly fallen 23% this year.

The company is due to report full-year earnings on 5 October and those results will be presented by new man, John Stuart.

John Stuart

John Stuart

The latter is a low-key industry insider with 39 years experience – from tote to boardroom. His overseas connections have proven a blue-blooded lifeline for the racing operator but he was always a weak second favourite to succeed Du Plessis behind the public friendly choice of charismatic current Sports Betting Exec, Vee Moodley – probably the one and only man in horseracing’s hierarchy who actually understands the sport at all levels.

Since Steinhoff’s accounting revelations, Du Plessis has used an offshore vehicle called Lotus Good Investments Inc. to buy Phumelela shares. Lotus is Phumelela’s fifth-biggest shareholder and has a 3.9% stake, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It’s wholly owned by Du Plessis’s family trust.

So two down, how many to go? The obvious more relevant question is – who will be next?

We are pricing up a red hot favourite. He’s a genuine hardnosed stayer. He likes a scrap. He has his supporters. Just when he looks beaten, he seems to find another gear.  No question, he is overrated – but If nothing else, he is plain consistent and those blinkers and ear muffs keep him focussed.

We live in interesting times. Let’s see what happens.

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