Cape Town — After the demise of Phumelela, South Africa's horse racing's new operator 4Racing under the leadership of Soweto pilot Fundi Sithebe has overseen the rebirth of the industry with the Western Cape leading the charge.
Last December, Phumelela Gaming and Leisure closed shop after a financial collapse, and that opened the way for the transfer of licence approvals to 4Racing around the country. Sithebe, the chief executive officer of 4Racing,
However, a few weeks into their reign, the industry enjoys stability and growth, despite many horse racing meetings behind closed doors. With the lifting of some restrictions, the biggest turnaround has been in the Western Cape, which has recently staged two feature events.
Sithebe attended both recent events in Kenilworth and has praised Cape Racing, the new horse racing operator for Kenilworth and Durbanville.
"I want to congratulate Cape Racing on the flawless staging of both events and for the close co-operation with 4Racing to enhance the racing experience for all," said Sithebe.
"The Cape Guineas was a fantastic way to end the 2021 racing calendar, and the L'Ormarins Queens Plate the perfect way to begin our Grade 1 South African horseracing season in 2022.
"Both events were superbly staged, providing a quality field for the loyal punters and great entertainment and excitement for leisure racegoers.
"We now look forward to the Cape Town Met in partnership with World Sports Betting. We hope to use these signature events to build a culture of racing. We would like to entice a new, diverse audience to attend the races all year round.
"For us at 4Racing, we were also very happy to be able to test some broadcasting initiatives and try out some new ideas during the Cape Town visits. We are ready to launch an innovative and a new consumer broadcast channel, which we are confident will help attract a new audience to the wonderful sport of horse racing."
Justin Snaith, the multiple South African champion trainer, has been impressed with the way 4Racing has responded to challenging conditions with speed and flexibility. He foresees great growth in the industry.
"Horse racing in South Africa had been hampered for more than a decade under the management of the listed company Phumelela and earlier the Racing Association," said Snaith.
"Now, under the direction of 4Racing, the future looks encouraging for the sport and its stakeholders.
"4Racing is privately owned and professionally run, which is positioned for the benefit of racing and its participants. It is focused on the sporting aspect of the business.
"The metamorphosis has commenced. Changes have already been noticed. We are seeing the dawn of a new era as the glitz and glamour return to the 'Sport of Kings'.
"The first race meeting in Africa was held in 1802, so it’s a sport steeped in tradition and has always been responsible for enormous international tourism. The sport is making a massive comeback and will soon be found in mainstream media once again.
"Our local horses, jockeys, trainers and grooms are incredibly competitive and highly regarded internationally. We have an incredible product which all South Africans can be proud of.
"4Racing is one horse you can back, and we cannot wait to see you at the races!"
Expert horseracing analyst and racing manager Mark van Deventer has had his finger on the pulse of the horse racing industry, locally and around the globe. He says the new dispensation has attracted people that are committed and devoted to the industry.
"Racing, like all live sport, took a heavy hit during the lockdown. Economic pressures over the years have inevitably caused shrinkage," said Van Deventer.
"Old-timers will recall the golden era before sports betting or casinos became legal (when racing was the only gambling game in town) how the grandstands would be packed, and betting turnovers were massive. Realistically, those days are long gone.
"As compelling and stimulating as racing is to its truly passionate fans and those devoted professionals (jockeys, trainers, grooms, breeders, officials) who earn a living working with thoroughbred racehorses, they acknowledge it is difficult. It is also an expensive sport trying to compete in an era where most customers want things as cheap as possible, simple fixes and instant gratification. So, things can be tough.
"Whether we market it mainly as a sport or entertainment, a wonderful outdoor spectacle and social opportunity to share with mates or promote it as a challenging betting game where the most skilful horseplayers make serious money, racing still has a great deal to offer.
"I see positive signs of renewal right now with committed racing people and super-sussed marketers trying hard to do the right thing. Forging new partnerships to make horse-racing sustainable in SA is essential.
The bottom line is racing's voluntary participants (punters/owners) need to be treated well or else they will take their discretionary spend elsewhere. It helps to have a mutually supportive, not adversarial, relationship between the authorities and operators. The integrity of the game is also vital.
"Despite all the ructions that racing, and indeed this country is facing, there is still hope, enormous talent and that special South African 'gees' and can-do spirit of resilience to draw upon.
"Racing remains a great game and by making genuine efforts to extend its appeal to a wider, mass-market, then our shared future can be brighter."
Veteran Cape Town trainer Vaughan Marshall, often referred to as the 'Milnerton maestro', said there are "positive vibes" in Cape racing circles.
There are positive vibes out there about the upcoming Cape Met and racing in general," said Marshall.
"People are still wary of the powers that be treating us in the Western Cape as the poor relations. My thoughts are if we all work hard, Cape Racing will rise but we do need to work together."
Ashwin Reynolds, the first horse owner of colour to win Africa’s most famous race, Vodacom Durban July, said the industry has become more inclusive. Reynolds hails from the Cape Flats, and his horse Kommetdieding won the Durban July at Greyville Racecourse last year.
He is optimistic about the future of horse racing in the Mother City.
"The Cape Met has always been the crown jewel for horse racing in the Mother City, and I have no doubt that this year's event is going to be fantastic," said Reynolds, a building contractor by profession.
"Like many, I am confidently optimistic about the future of horseracing. I am a firm believer that when people come together with renewed energy, a common goal and vision, only great things can happen.
"It has been such a refreshing, welcoming sight to see the introduction of so many new faces, and therefore new energy, throughout the racing fraternity.
"I hope that all stakeholders will work together, without agendas, to restore horse racing to its former glory and more inclusive."
The Cape Town Met 2022 presented by World Sports Betting will be on Saturday, 29 January, at Kenilworth in Cape Town.