where the horse is always the hero
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Posted 2018-02-19 15:58:25  
Horseracing & Breeding Wake Up. Catch the bolted horse now!

The Silly Season of South African horse sales is almost amongst us. Writing from a perspective where we owe no allegiances is inspiring and we turned our attention to the planning of the sales, one of the most critical aspects when trying the extract the last bid from prospective buyers.

This year's 'silly' season, which seems to change annually, is the month of three sales where the Bloodstock South Africa company, now managed by a group containing Michael Holmes and Equine Group has two sales in a space of a month. Sandwiched inbetween is the Cape Thoroughbred Sale Yearling Sales as the two companies go head on for the prized South African rand. Let's be clear, there will be a low volume of international trade at two of the three sales and unlikely a large international buying bench at the other either, so it will be the South African rand that will dominate the market. That rand, mind you, is a diminishing one as the country goes through a pathetic 1 percent increase in growth but more positively a welcome change of President, Cyril Ramaphosa, now in a position that few envy. Unfortunately that presidential change will do little to inspire investors in the short term as they wait for action not words from government. Too late for the three sales in question, we fear.

The madness of the planning was aptly described by renowned Bloodstock guru, John Freeman recently, he said, "Thinking about the sales is a head-spinner. BSA Cape Yearling Sale at Mistico on 25th February, CTS Yearling Sale at Durbanville on 12th and 13th April and just 10 days later the BSA National Yearling Sale which runs from 24th to 26th April in Johannesburg. How transport companies will be able to move all these horses around is a logistical nightmare. Bad planning. Having seen the buying pattern at the CTS Cape Premier Sale I wonder how owners and trainers will absorb all of those yearlings in such a short space of time? It's plain to see that the market will take an even bigger knock than it needs. Bargain hunting time perhaps. Break open the piggy banks."

It's going to be a buyers market for sure and with the National Yearling Sale often clashing with the QEII Cup in Hong Kong in the past (this year run on the 29 April 2018), one wonders how the powers that be work out their plans. It is nearly impossible for a Hong Kong based trainer to attend the National Sale and even more difficult to get this owners to do the same. As Tony Millard put it in an interview we had with him a few years ago, we loosely translate his words, "we have the money we don't know which sale has the best horse, we can only attend one sale". The planning for the National Sale possibility made his mind up. For your interest, he had that excellent win with the Drakenstein bred South African Singapore Sling on the weekend. This Hong Kong Derby aimed horse could land up in that self same QE II Cup as well. So much for him coming to 'Germiston 1'.

These sales plans were naturally done last year before the Jooste fallout where that one man accounted for a vast portion of the revenue of CTS and he supported many breeders. With that fallout racing and breeding suffered and the clan that Jooste supported has suffered. However there's more action on the political front which will be addressed later.

On the topic of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Jockey Club made a serious effort to train and bring in more natives into the sport, post the 1997 British handover to China. The effort resulted in more native jockeys and owners and employment of the best young local talent. The largely English based sport was transforming dramatically and the HKJC planned it to perfection, making them Hong Kong’s most important revenue driver in terms of goverment taxes and charity. This to the point that they have standalone departments just to distribute the money derived from this non profit machine.

We have a similiar problem in South Africa, but we are doing little in terms of integration. The recent landscape of politics has changed and could affect the industry in a bad way as the incoming President is strong on land expropriation without compensation and that may affect the breeding sector. We mooted the idea of a National Stud Farm many years ago and it gained little traction, yet this type of idea may be the very salvation of the breeding industry. Local government can get involved and supply the land and create jobs for its people whilst the breeding industry provide the necessary skills. This land expropriation issue is compounded by the fact that the commercial breeding industry almost entirely lacks any form of transformation in line with the lack of blacks in the training ranks. We are however happy to report that the jockey ranks, especially in the apprentice ranks, is one of the most diverse in the world. A leader in transformation for horseracing that we all can learn from. In total opposition to this the breeding sector is pleading with government to assist in opening the doors for international export. We found support from unlikely sources like the HKJC and even syndication guru Barry Irwin. Both onboard for their own interests, of course. In HKJC'S case they need the horse market to supplement the future Chinese market growth and the Australian issues are hampering them badly, so much so that they decided to take their chances at buying from the Cape Thoroughbred Sales in January, leaving Magic Millions without their support. The government in past years in South Africa has been difficult deal with, with ugly background underhanded dealings the order of the day, the clean business operators were coy and rightfully so. This still doesn't answer the transformation planning question for our industry.

This is coupled on the tote with the fact that even though we do not show meaningful transformation, we still expect to attract the black middle class into our ownership ranks. It's smacks of people in the industry being far too insular or got their heads in the sand. The wake up call is here. People want to see their own people in positions of power and training their horses. That's the way society operates and it's more of a comfort zone than based on racial tendencies. No one of the opposite race or sex for that matter would want to attend a horse sale or a Gala Dinner and see only one race or sex, it's uncomfortable. In Kzn the industry is dominated on the betting front by the Indian population, yet their are few Indian trainers. Little new blood coming into the sport to replace the old punters will leave a massive hole in the coffers, as is already being felt. People want to see their own and visibly so. Then they will support it.

We score the most impressive own goals of any sport. We fight with ourselves, we can't plan together, we deliberately or otherwise exclude the majority of the population and then we make excuses for our actions. We also have the nerve to go to government cap in hand asking for assistance so we can hit the jackpot that is overseas trade.

23 years post demoracy, past the excuses of the Zuma led corruption scandals into a new dawn of the running, biking, golfer President we now have, we still cannot make our industry live up to the expectations of the many that support it. We are an embarrassment to ourselves and no matter what colour or sex you are, the big elephant in the room that no one wants to face is the fact that we are a closed, insular and minority led industry refusing to change with the times.

Horseracing and breeding, wake up. 

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