HORSERACING PLAYS BIG ROLE IN SA ECONOMY

Horseracing plays an important role in South Africa’s economy. Phumelela alone contributes some R800 million annually to the economy and the horseracing industry creates direct and indirect employment for tens of thousands of people.

Race meetings are held 364 days a year and annual betting turnover on the sport is over R7 billion.

Through taxation on bets and VAT payments, Phumelela generates over R200 million a year in revenue for Central Government and its provincial counterparts.

The National Horseracing Authority of Southern Africa (NHRA), an autonomous body, regulates horseracing and controls all aspects of the sport that can impact on the result of a race. The NHRA employs professional stipendiary stewards to enforce the rules and tests 5 000 samples from horses annually at its laboratory, which is recognised as among the best in the world.

The NHRA is also responsible for the stud book (a record of all thoroughbred births), the registration of stallions, broodmares, foals and owners and the licensing of trainers, jockeys and officials.

Other NHRA functions include handicapping, which in South Africa is according to merit ratings. The handicappers rate all horses based on their performances and allocate each one a merit rating. These ratings determine the weight to be carried by each horse in a handicap race with one point on the merit-rating scale equating to 0,5kg in actual weight. Merit ratings are reassessed virtually daily in terms of the latest results and change constantly.

The quality of South African horseracing is well proven with both thoroughbreds and horsemen having triumphed repeatedly at the highest levels on the international stage. Their many successes are exceptional in light of the severe quarantine restrictions arising from African Horse Sickness and that the South African horseracing industry is relatively small by global standards.

Leading South African trainer Mike de Kock has led the charge in recent years with 12 winners since 2003 at Dubai World Cup, the richest race meeting on the planet.

He is the leading international trainer at the meeting and second only to local Saeed Bin Suroor, who trains the cream of the powerful Godolphin string.

De Kock put South African horseracing in the international limelight on Dubai World Cup night in 2003 after Phumelela had assisted him to obtain permission from Dubai racing officials to bring horses for the Dubai International Racing Carnival that year.

He sent out South African-bred Victory Moon and Ipi Tombe (bred in neighbouring Zimbabwe) to clinch the $2-million UAE Derby and the $2-million Dubai Duty Free respectively with both runners being cheered on by tens of thousands of TV viewers in South Africa.

De Kock repeated the feat in 2004 (taking the UAE Derby with Lundy’s Liability and the Duty Free with Right Approach) and in 2005 captured the $1 million Godolphin Mile with South African-bred Grand Emporium.

De Kock was back among the winners on the big night in 2007, when Asiatic Boy wiped the floor with the opposition in the $2-million UAE Derby, and in 2008 South Africa stole the show. Honour Devil gave De Kock his fourth UAE Derby success and later in the evening stablemate Sun Classique romped home in the $5-million Dubai Sheema Classic. Fellow South African trainer Herman Brown won the $5-million Duty Free with Jay Peg and between them the two trainers’ runners scooped half the $21 million prize money on offer - a sensational achievement!

De Kock has had another five winners since and in 2016 his charge Mubtaahij finished second to USA star California Chrome in the $10-million Dubai World Cup, the richest race in the world and the topliner at the Dubai World Cup race meeting.

Quarantine restrictions from the 1950s made it extremely difficult for South African horses to compete internationally and for decades few ventured overseas. Nevertheless, the likes of Colorado King and Hawaii walked tall on the international stage in the 1960s and 70s. Colorado King crushed the cream of the West Coast runners in the USA in the Group 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. Hawaii was voted USA Grass horse of the Year before going on to sire an Epsom Derby winner, as well as a runner-up and a third-placed runner in the world’s most famous race.

South African horses have competed internationally in greater numbers since a quarantine protocol was established with the European Union in the 1990s and have proved a match for international opposition on all levels. They have won graded events in the USA, England, Australia and Hong Kong, including London News (winner of the international G1 QE II Cup in Hong Kong in 1996), Spook Express (winner of the G2 Winstar Galaxy Stakes at Keeneland in 2001 and subsequently runner-up in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Fillies and Mares) and Crimson Palace (winner of the G1 Beverly D at Arlington Park in 2004).

Their feats may have paled into insignificance had Horse Chestnut’s career not ended prematurely. Rated by many as the best horse in South African horseracing history, Horse Chestnut was sent to the USA with the 2000 Dubai World Cup as his target. He made a sensational winning international debut in a G3 race at Gulfstream Park, but suffered a training injury a few days later. De Kock’s charge was retired to stud at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, having won nine of 10 starts including the SA Triple Crown.

South African Michael Roberts won the British Jockeys’ Championship in 1992 and South African jockeys totally dominated the cosmopolitan horseracing scene in Hong Kong for more than 20 years.

Basil Marcus won the Hong Kong Jockeys’ Championship seven times during the 1990s, Robbie Fradd took the title in 2000 and then Durban-born Douglas Whyte (nicknamed the “Durban Demon” in Hong Kong) won the championship 13 years running before finally surrendering his crown in 2014.