Q: What is your background?
A: I was steeped in racing from birth; it`s always been my passion. My
parents were thoroughbred breeders in the Eastern Cape and they still joke about
my learning to ride before I could walk and studying pedigrees and form before I
could talk. My dad bred a few nice horses from limited stock back in the 1970s
While studying for my law degree at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, I
worked during vacations for Robin Bruss`s bloodstock agency in Johannesburg. I
learned a lot about the commercial, racing and bloodstock worlds. After varsity,
I worked for Robin full-time, whereafter I was offered the job as assistant
general manager at Newmarket Racecourse in Alberton. In my five years there I
was involved in all racing operations from race programming to through to
catering. I was also most fortunate to attend a number of racecourse management
courses abroad - in Japan, Hong Kong and the USA.
Q: How were you involved in the corporatisation of South African racing, from
A: I was appointed the first general manger of the Racing Association. With
the amalgamation of the old turf clubs and the advent of Phumelela as a
corporatised, commercially driven company, it was important to have an agreement
in place to safeguard the interests of the horsemen - the owners, trainers and
jockeys as well as the general infrastructure and ethos of the sport, hence the
formation of the RA.
I left the RA in 2000 to take up the position as chief executive at Plumpton
Racecourse - a small jumps course in Southeast England.
Q: How did that go?
A: I thoroughly enjoyed my nine years there. To say I took over a bit of a
mess at Plumpton would be a serious understatement. But the challenge of getting
the racecourse back on track and operating profitably taught me an awful lot. My
very small team and I established it as one of the best small jumps courses in
Q: So why have you returned to SA?
A: On the professional level it was because of the exciting job opportunity
here at Phumelela. I`d taken Plumpton to where I could and Phumelela offered a
set of new challenges.
On a personal front, I considered family aspects, such as the education of my
children and their need for more regular grandparenting. Private schools here
are terrific and a lot more affordable than those in the UK. And then there`s
Q: What does your job as Racing Executive entail?
A: I am broadly responsible for ensuring the effective running and
performance of all aspects of Phumelela`s horse racing operations.
Q: What is your most important challenge?
A: There are endless challenges facing the sport, the most pressing of which
is the whole raceday experience. We need to create an atmosphere that is
conducive to getting more people to attend race meetings. By making off-course
betting so accessible, one can understand why on-course attendances have
diminished. We need to get our house in order and then make a concerted effort
to attract people back to the track.
Q: How will you tackle this problem?
A: Phumelela and the RA have already started addressing it through a new
joint committee specifically tasked with enhancing the raceday experience.
Essentially, we need to "compact" the experience; create a more
intimate and exciting atmosphere on the racecourse. Turffontein presents a
challenge because it`s such a big venue, but initiatives already completed -
such as the new piazza and initial improvements within the grandstand - have
started the ball rolling. Further improvements are planned to continue the theme
to all areas, and we are looking at relocating the parade ring and related
facilities to the front of the grandstand.
We`d like to make going racing something people aspire to and make the races
the thing to do and the place to be seen. Johannesburg needs a flagship raceday
which is an event where everyone must be, the premier social event of the year,
like Royal Ascot in England. The Steinhoff Summer Cup in November is the event
we are focusing on initially, and the international jockeys contest that has
been added to the day will hopefully capture the public`s interest.
Q: What specific measures will you take?
A: Racing in hospitality facilities like the private boxes, the Furious Room
and the Elevation Room is a terrific experience already, but facilities for the
general public need urgent attention. We need to enhance the access to
Turffontein and try to dispel security concerns about its location. The best
routes to the course must be identified, well signposted and well publicised. We
could even have security-manned intersections on the route to instill confidence
in potential racegoers.
I see my role as being a bridge, a liaison, between the company`s commercial
interests and the people who deliver the product - the horsemen. Initially I`ll
mainly be listening to the concerns of all racing people, trying to determine
which are the valid needs and issues that require priority action.
Q: What lessons from the UK can you apply here?
A: I don`t think there are easy models that can be transplanted. The ethic in
the UK - the climate, the culture, the demographics and the way of life are very
different. What works in the UK won`t necessarily work here, but there are
undoubtedly certain things we can learn from them.
However, we should always remember that the Phumelela model itself is an
excellent one and is the envy of many racing nations, including the UK. If we
can get the balance right between the commercial side and the valid needs of the
horsemen, it`ll be even better.
Q: What are your initial views on the Johannesburg racecourse situation?
A: We`ve obviously got to concentrate on maximising the assets we have. I`ve
already mentioned the exciting plans to upgrade Turffontein. The Randjesfontein
training centre at Midrand has possibilities for more racing which might help us
harness potential revenue from the Johannesburg northern suburbs. And the
corporate market is untapped as far as Randjesfontein is concerned. But we need
to balance this with the issue of wear on a track that is essentially a training
Q: Your first impressions about the health of racing on the Highveld?
A: Undoubtedly we have a very good product. Field sizes are very healthy and
racing operations appear to be running very well. This year we`ve managed to
catch up many of the meetings lost due to the closure of racecourses and every
effort will be made to address the current shortage of racing opportunities for
horses at the key times of year. One of the burning issues is that of night
racing and the Phumelela board will be making a tough decision next month in the
light of its escalating costs, which are naturally of concern.
Generally, South African racing is of a high standard and well respected
internationally - undoubtedly helped by the incredible performances and
achievements of our horses and horsemen overseas. What the world is seeing is a
well-run, well-controlled industry - which is vital for the integrity of our
product. This has obviously enabled Phumelela to grow its international revenue
to the benefit of the business and stakes for owners.
Q: Do you have plans to improve stakes for owners?
A: As you know, increases in stakes are inextricably linked to the success of
Phumelela. The horsemen should therefore be working with Phumelela to raise
profitability - and vice versa, of course, as we are linked in this common goal.
It`s encouraging to see where prize money has gone in recent years in all
Phumelela regions and we hope to be able to continue this trend.
Q: How do you anticipate the global downturn affecting racing and Phumelela?
A: Everyone is going to face a challenging time over the next year or two,
but the good news is that Phumelela is extremely well placed financially to
weather the storm.